'Protocol gives us our unique selling point - so let's use it' - Sinead McLaughlin

THE NI Protocol “can contribute to delivering well-paid jobs to areas in the north with the worst problems of unemployment and poverty”, according to the SDLP's jobs spokesperson Sinead McLaughlin.

The Foyle MLA told the Irish News that while it would be dishonest to pretend there have not been difficulties with the Protocol, “it would equally be irresponsible to overlook the opportunities it creates in giving Northern Ireland membership of both the UK’s Internal Market and the EU Single Market”.

It comes as the SDLP begins consulting on its jobs plan for the north west, which forms part of its wider Jobs Plan for Northern Ireland.

Consultation on the north west plan will be launched online today at 11am at an event which will be addressed by business leaders as well as by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, Foyle MLA Mark Durkan and Ms McLaughlin.

She said: “It is essential the UK government and the EU negotiate in good faith to mitigate the impact of the Protocol, because most of the difficulties can be overcome.

“But it must be stressed that the British government has not acted in good faith in its repeated threats to walk away from international, legally binding, existing agreements.

“Alongside those negotiations to mitigate the negative, we must also act positively and decisively to promote the opportunities created by the Protocol.

“It's obvious to anyone that being members of two major trade markets is a massive opportunity. We said for generations that Northern Ireland needs a unique selling point – now we have it. So let’s use it to our advantage and not talk it down or be embarrassed by it.”

Ms McLaughlin added: “To its credit, Invest NI has been doing exactly this. Invest NI is not well regarded in the north west, having been accused in the past of focusing almost exclusively on Belfast and the east. But it deserves praise for going out and promoting the benefits of the Protocol for businesses locating in NI.”

A recent poll conducted by Manufacturing NI found that 46 per cent of manufacturers want the Executive to identify and secure positive benefits of the Protocol, and a quarter of respondents said the Protocol was already giving them benefits, or expect it to do so.

Some 38 per cent expect continued detriment from the Protocol, but the main issue is the disruption of supply chains.

Ms McLaughlin said: “We're already seeing large retailers in Northern Ireland like Marks & Spencer changing their supply chains to buy more local produce. We must focus much more of the opportunities we now have. At last, Northern Ireland has a unique selling point. Let’s exploit it.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “Our party has a positive vision for the future, and creating more jobs sits at the heart of this. This jobs plan for the north west will feed into the SDLP’s Jobs Plan for Northern Ireland.”

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