Protocol cost claim as credible at the £350m on the Boris bus

The Food and Drink Federation in Britain has reported a £2 billion loss in EU sales in the first six months of 2021
Caoimhe Archibald

IN a recent media article, Esmond Birnie claims the Protocol costs businesses £850 million per year. It’s quite a claim. But even a rudimentary analysis of his figures shows this is as credible as the £350 million on the side of Boris’s bus.

Mr Birnie cites just four businesses when calculating his £850 million figure. Mr Birnie estimates these four businesses have experienced an average 6 per cent increase in costs.

He inexplicably applies this 6 per cent cost to all trade from Britain to the north, valued at £10 billion, equating to £600 million. He then adds £250 million for government’s annual spending in implementing the Protocol, coming to his total of £850 million.

There are numerous very serious flaws in this methodology.

It’s not possible to draw credible conclusions on the entire economy based on assumptions about just four companies.

Mr Birnie also does not account for firms shifting their supply chains to the north, across the island and other parts of the EU. There is plenty of evidence of this happening. According to the south’s Central Statistics Office, in the first seven months of 2021 north-south trade has increased by 60 per cent while south-north trade has also increased by 43 per cent. This can help reduce costs incurred by businesses and create more trade locally benefitting the economy across this island.

Mr Birnie also does not factor in the unique benefit to companies here of being able to freely trade with both the British and European markets. This is widely recognised as a game-changer for attracting investment and building a stronger export base.

Any serious assessment of the Protocol would compare it against the alternative. Britain’s Brexit carries costs, it creates barriers to EU trade, but Mr Birnie ignores these. The Food and Drink Federation in Britain has reported a £2 billion loss in EU sales in the first six months of 2021. While labour shortages have resulted in empty shelves and disruption to deliveries.

The DUP pushed for a hard Brexit against the wishes and interests of people here. Unionist spokespeople publicly stated they were prepared to accept any economic damage in leaving the EU, including the loss of thousands of jobs.

In a desperate attempt to deflect from its failed Brexit strategy and its latest opinion polls, the DUP leader is now threatening the stability of our institutions. He has said DUP ministers will not participate in north south institutions putting at risk €1 billion of Peace-Plus funding that must be signed off by the North South Ministerial Council.

It’s time for the DUP to grow up, take responsibility and work to find solutions to real issues facing businesses, rather than engaging in stunts.

There is no good Brexit but the Protocol protects the all-Ireland economy and gives businesses here unique access to the British market and EU single market. The focus should be on taking advantage of those opportunities to bring jobs and investment here as part of the economic recovery from Covid.

Caoimhe Archibald is chair of the Stormont economy committee and Sinn Féin's economy spokesperson

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