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'Blind man on a galloping horse' could have foreseen problems with NI Protocol, Ian Paisley says

The DUP MP made the claim as a Westminster committee discussed the new trade arrangements.


DUP MP Ian Paisley

DUP MP Ian Paisley

DUP MP Ian Paisley

A “blind man on a galloping horse” could have foreseen problems with the NI Protocol, DUP MP Ian Paisley claimed as a Westminster committee discussed delays during the first few days of the regime.

But freight boss Seamus Leheny of Logistics UK dismissed a call by the North Antrim MP that the protocol, which came into force last Thursday night, should be dropped.

Mr Leheny gave evidence to Westminster’s NI Affairs Committee about problems brought about the new checks and documentation rules under the protocol, which keeps NI in the EU single market for goods, with EU customs rules to be enforced at our ports.

There have been hold-ups at ports in Great Britain - and some retailers have told their customers that they are no longer delivering to NI, or that deliveries are delayed.

Mr Leheny told the committee that a “breakdown in communications” between government agencies and the industry in Great Britain has helped create delays.

He said that hold-ups at ports in Great Britain were partly because companies there had wrongly believed the “grace periods” to help the flow of supermarket goods into NI had meant no documentation is required.

However, pre-notifications to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) are still required to be filed from GB ports.

“There is a yawning gap in the knowledge of those in Great Britain exporting to NI,” Mr Leheny said.

However, he praised staff at the department: “Daera staff have been a credit to their organisation and have worked with companies and there has been leniency.”

In response to Mr Paisley’s call that the scheme should be jettisoned and article 16 of the protocol invoked, Mr Leheny said that doing so would not be practical.

Mr Paisley quoted Article 16, which permits the UK to act where application of the protocol “leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade”.

It allows the UK to “unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures” limited to what’s “strictly necessary” to remedy the situation.

Priority is given to measures which “will least disturb the functioning of this protocol”.

Mr Paisley said he had heard from one freight boss in Antrim about problems with the scheme.

He said the businessman told him in an email: “The way the protocol is set up is a disaster for drivers, they’re parked up all over the UK with mountains of form-filling hindering trade, big time. This is costing us a clean fortune.”

Mr Paisley said to Mr Leheny: “Surely you should be asking us today to invoke article 16. This isn’t working.”

He added: “A blind man on a galloping horse could have told you this would be a nightmare. We have to recognise that those who advocated the protocol have some responsibility for that.

“The protocol is now an impediment to trade. You’re in front of us today telling us the protocol is bad, but we told you so.”

The DUP was in favour of Brexit but voted against the trade deal concluded by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the EU, and last year voted against the withdrawal agreement which enshrined the protocol as a means to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

But Mr Leheny said in response: “What’s the alternative? Before you invoke article 16 you need a realistic alternative. You can’t just walk away and think something else will be better."

"Industry here did support the backstop but the protocol is where we ended up because every alternative was rejected. The view of our industry is, let’s make it work," he added.

Mr Paisley said the protocol was "an unmitigated disaster".

However Mr Leheny said: "No-one has said to me, let’s invoke article 16, let’s remove the protocol."

"If you do that, you create another new set of problems and any benefit the protocol can deliver to NI is thrown away."

Simon Hoare, the North Dorset MP who chairs the NI affairs committee, then intervened to move discussions on, “lest we have the Mr Paisley and Mr Leheny show, though I’m sure the ratings would be very good”.

Belfast Telegraph