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Biden risks ‘causing civil unrest’ over Northern Ireland Protocol, warns Lord Trimble

The architect of the Good Friday Agreement has warned Joe Biden to abandon his support for the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP), arguing the US president risks “causing civil unrest” by siding with the EU against Britain.

Lord Trimble, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to bring the Troubles to an end, has written to President Biden claiming his administration also risks creating “political uncertainty” and “damaging the Northern Ireland economy”.

He claims the US’s continued backing of Brussels over the terms of trade between mainland Britain and the province has “subverted the main safeguards within the Belfast Agreement”.

The former First Minister of Northern Ireland’s personal letter to the White House comes after June’s G7 Summit in Cornwall where the President warned Boris Johnson against inflaming tensions in Northern Ireland through his efforts to replace the NIP with arrangements that would eliminate EU-imposed obstacles to the free movement of goods and agriproducts between the mainland and the six counties.

It follows reports that the EU’s relentless enforcement of its rulebook has led to empty supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland and inflicted severe damage on the country’s struggling economy.

In his letter, Lord Trimble expresses his “concern” at the role the US President, who has Irish roots, has played, bluntly telling him: “The Northern Ireland Protocol has not only subverted the main safeguards within the Belfast Agreement causing civil unrest and political uncertainty, it is also damaging the Northern Ireland economy disrupting supply chains, inflating prices and diverting trade from our main market in Great Britain.

“At the heart of the Belfast Agreement is consent, meaning that there can be no change to the constitutional position of NI as part of the UK without the agreement of a majority of the people of the country. But the NIP, by giving the EU powers over the movement of goods into and out of the Province, has torpedoed the ‘consent’ principle and risks a return to sectarian strife.

“The NIP totally destroyed this consent principle to the detriment of the unionist community.”

‘The result has been political unrest and violence and threats of further violence’

Arguing that this “monumental constitutional change has been imposed on the people of NI without seeking their consent and against the manifest opposition of every unionist party and politician in NI”, he warns: “The result has been political unrest and violence and threats of further violence on our streets because the political promises of the Belfast Agreement have been flippantly dismissed through the NIP.

Arguing that trade is now easier between the Northern Ireland and Russia than it is with the rest of the UK, Lord Trimble cites one example where a food supplier “had to deal with 700 pages of documentation to pass EU imposed checks for goods coming into NI from GB.

The NIP, agreed by the Johnson government in 2019, imposes an effective border in the Irish Sea between the mainland and Northern Ireland, meaning that a foreign power – Brussels – has been granted the right to regulate and impede trade within the sovereign boundaries of the UK.

The Prime Minister and his chief Brexit minister Lord Frost have made it increasingly clear in recent months that they regard the NIP as unacceptable and want it replaced.

So far, the UK has avoided a major trade crisis for Ulster by repeatedly using its powers to waive the most onerous interpretation of the rules by the EU, but these extended periods of grace are due to run out at the end of September.

Lord Trimble’s intervention coincides with a 38-page report by the Centre for Brexit Policy think tank which suggests ending the impasse with a “Mutual Enforcement” deal between Brussels and London that both sides will trust one another to apply the other’s rules to the movement of goods. The deal would remove any need for borders, either on the island of Ireland or in the Irish Sea, and would allow free passage without laborious paperwork and delays.

In his letter, Lord Trimble urges President Biden to embrace Mutual Enforcement, arguing it “respects both the integrity of the EU Single Market and the independent sovereignty of the UK voted for by the British people in the referendum in 2016”.

“I wish to express my concern about the way in which the Agreement is being undermined by the Northern Ireland Protocol, and in particular the role which your administration has played in contributing to the damage being caused to the Agreement through your support for the Northern Ireland Protocol,” Lord Trimble writes.

He later adds: “I know you have a genuine interest in Ireland and its future but would appeal to you to consider the way in which the NIP protocol has undermined the peace process. Accept that it is not good economically or politically for either NI or the Irish Republic. Give your support to the pursuit of the workable Alternatives to the NIP which can protect the interests of the EU and not disrupt the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK. That is how the interests of both countries on the Island of Ireland can be served.”

The letter in full

Dear Mr President,

As a former First Minister of Northern Ireland and the co negotiator of the Belfast Agreement along with the late John Hume, I wish to express my concern about the way in which the Agreement is being undermined by the Northern Ireland Protocol, and in particular the role which your administration has played in contributing to the damage being caused to the Agreement through your support for the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Northern Ireland Protocol undermines the Belfast Agreement 

The Northern Ireland Protocol has not only subverted the main safeguards within the Belfast Agreement causing civil unrest and political uncertainty, it is also damaging the Northern Ireland economy disrupting supply chains, inflating prices and diverting trade from our main market in Great Britain. 

The central pillar of the Belfast Agreement was the principle of consent. For Unionists the assurance given was that “ ANY change in the status of Northern Ireland could only be made with the consent of the majority of the people of NI”.  For those who aspired to a United Ireland they knew that if they could persuade the majority that such a constitutional change was desirable then the UK government would not stand in their way. Furthermore in the meantime any controversial issues which impacted adversely on either community would have to be subjected to a cross community vote so neither community could have a policy or decision which impacted negatively on them imposed without their support.

The NIP totally destroyed this consent principle to the detriment of the unionist community. First of all it represents a massive change on the constitutional status of NI. No longer will laws applicable in NI   relating to Agricultural practices, product standards, environmental codes,  labour regulations be made by the UK parliament or even the NI Assembly. They will be made by the EU and imposed by the European Court of Justice. This monumental constitutional change has been imposed on the people of NI without seeking their consent and against the manifest opposition of every unionist party and politician in NI. The result has been political unrest and violence and threats of further violence on our streets because the political promises of the Belfast Agreement have been flippantly dismissed through the NIP. 

Furthermore the delicate consent mechanism of a cross community vote on these issues in the NI Assembly has been removed on the basis that unionists would never vote to give their consent to them. You are on record as saying that the primary aim of your administration is to defend and support the Belfast Agreement when in fact defending the NIP does the exact opposite and damages community relations within NI undermining the good work which John Hume an myself achieved at great personal sacrifice.

The Northern Ireland Protocol damages the Northern Ireland Economy

Not only has the NIP impacted on community relations in NI it is doing great damage to the NI economy. The extensive checks on trade between GB and NI which is internal UK trade has discouraged many firms from trading with NI added costs and time delays for those who do and increased the cost of doing such business. The result has been inflationary pressures which has damaged competitiveness, loss of customers because of uncertainty and delays, empty supermarket shelves and reduced choice for consumers. Trade with countries like Russia is now easier to undertake than trade with the rest of our own country because of the NIP. One food supplier has recently revealed that a lorry load of supplies destined for its stores in NI will have  700 pages of documentation to pass EU imposed checks for goods coming into NI from GB. It is this aspect of the NIP which has caused the economic disruption I have described in this letter.  All of this economic damage is being imposed on one of the weaker economic regions of the UK. 

Mutual Enforcement – a workable alternative to the Northern Ireland Protocol 

The NIP is both damaging to community relations and the constitutional integrity of the UK. There is a workable alternative to it.  Mutual Enforcement respects both the integrity of the EU Single Market and the independent sovereignty of the UK voted for by the British people in the referendum in 2016. It involves both the EU and the UK Mutually Enforcing each others rules regulations and taxes for companies exporting into each others territory. Any company operating out of NI would be required to declare that it had met all the obligations contained in EU law when selling goods to the Republic of Ireland. Any breach of that obligation would be followed up by the authorities in the UK and breaches would carry severe penalties as an effective disincentive to break that obligation. The Eu authorities would do the same for goods being exported from the RoI to NI. This avoids the needs for border checks while at the same time safeguarding the integrity of the EU internal market.

I know you have a genuine interest in Ireland and its future but would appeal to you to consider the way in which the NIP protocol has undermined the peace process. Accept that it is not good economically or politically for either NI or the Irish Republic. Give your support to the pursuit of the workable Alternatives to the NIP which can protect the interests of the EU and not disrupt the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK. That is how the interests of both countries on the Island of Ireland can be served.

Yours, 

Lord Trimble

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

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