The Vice President at the European Commission on the proposed reforms to the NI protocol.
When I visited Northern Ireland last month, I was honoured that a wide variety of people from business and civic society took the time to discuss their concerns with me. Many of them had the same message: ‘Resolve, with the UK government, the practical challenges with the Protocol that matter most to us once and for all.’
The EU and its 27 Member States have listened to that message and that clear call for stability and predictability.
The new model for the implementation of the Protocol, proposed by the EU yesterday, provides a credible way forward to improve the everyday lives of people in Northern Ireland and ensure businesses can run more smoothly, while they continue to benefit from the tangible opportunities the Protocol brings.
Our proposals, for example, would see a type of “Express lane”, vastly facilitating the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. On one hand, customs-related red tape for a wider range of businesses and goods would be cut by half. At that same time, a significant range of retail goods for Northern Irish consumers would benefit from simplified certification and a reduction of up to 80 percent of the checks and controls required today.
Similarly, we are proposing a concrete way to guarantee the uninterrupted supply of medicines to the people of Northern Ireland by changing our own EU rules – and will soon table a legislative proposal to that end. I stand behind my words in Belfast to do whatever it takes to make that happen.
For our proposals to work, however, the UK government will have to do the homework which is long overdue – for instance, to ensure that permanent Border Control Posts are up and running and that our officials have real-time access to the relevant UK databases.
We stand ready to intensify our ongoing engagement with the UK government – and work 24/7 – to turn this promise into reality. This is not a take it or leave it offer. Nor is it about flexing muscles.
We need to work together – earnestly, in good faith – for a joint solution that Northern Ireland truly deserves. As I said in Belfast, it is the people here who should be ultimate winners.
At the same time, I am acutely aware and do understand the concerns of some communities about the Protocol in regard to Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom. To put it plainly: the Protocol has no impact whatsoever on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. This is made clear in the very first article of the Protocol.
There is no doubt in my mind, however, that the Protocol can be a real success story for all communities, thanks to Northern Ireland’s unique free access to the European Single Market.
Nowhere else enjoys such benefits. Norway and Switzerland, for example, pay for access to our single market, which underlines just how important they consider it.
Dual access to the EU and UK markets puts Northern Ireland in a unique position to encourage economic development and job creation, especially for the younger generation. It accentuates the areas where it already enjoys a global reputation, like agri-food, while enabling the growth of others.
As I found out first hand, the business community here in Northern Ireland is resilient, innovative and determined to make the most of opportunities on offer. And I also heard about investors in the United States and Canada who are keen to take advantage of Northern Ireland’s unique position – if they are given clarity on how things will work.
Yesterday, I dubbed our package of solutions as the package of enhanced opportunities. The reason is simple: it can make a real difference on the ground. Because it genuinely responds to concerns Northern Irish stakeholders have raised with us.
The EU has always been – and will remain – a good friend to Northern Ireland. It is my hope that with the right political will and goodwill, we can arrive jointly, with the UK government, at an agreed solution to the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland.
That is not a given, however. Effort will be required. But my attitude is: Let’s make it happen.