Business leaders tell US delegation compromise is needed over Protocol
Business leaders have told a bipartisan US delegation the UK Government and the EU will both have to compromise to sort out difficulties with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The US group, led by Congressman Richard Neal, met a number of business organisations in the final engagement in their fact-finding trip to the island of Ireland to discuss issues around the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Northern Ireland is without a functioning devolved executive after the DUP refused to support the re-establishment of powersharing at Stormont as part of their protest against the protocol.
Unionists oppose the arrangements which have created economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss recently announced an intention to introduce legislation to override some elements of the protocol, but has stated that her preferred outcome is a negotiated agreement with the EU.
Business leaders told members of the influential House of Representatives’ Committee on Ways and Means today that the UK and EU should sit down in a room together with representatives from Northern Ireland to resolve the current trading difficulties.
The meeting with the US delegation included representatives from Logistics UK, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, the CBI, the Ulster Farmers’ Union, Manufacturing NI, the NI Meat Exporters Association, the Institute of Directors and retail groups.
Speaking afterward, Seamus Leheny, policy manager at Logistics UK, said: “We basically told them that the UK and the EU both have to move on this. It is a negotiation.
“Full implementation of the protocol isn’t practical, it won’t work.
“We are working on a basis of partial protocol implementation at the moment. That has proven problematical for some supply chains.
“It was made clear to them some areas where the protocol is good, where it is beneficial. For our manufacturers and exporters, things are very good.
“But for the retail goods coming into Northern Ireland, that is where the difficulties lie.”
Mr Leheny added: “It is going to take some negotiations. There have been good ideas put forward by both the UK and the EU of how to get there.
“We made it very clear to the Americans that we value their engagement, their influence and their mediation in this in seeking compromise and agreement.
“They have a genuine interest and a very good understanding. Normally for one of their committees to go and spend five days in a country, in Ireland north and south, it is unheard of. We are very lucky to get this amount of airtime.
“We made it very clear they are welcome and that their assistance in sorting out the protocol is welcome.”
He added: “They heard about the pros and cons of the protocol and it really just comes down to getting people in a room.
“As Congressman Neal said, what the US did with the Good Friday Agreement, getting people into a room and negotiating, that is what it is going to take.
“There is going to have to be compromise and ultimately getting to that agreement to make it work because what is the alternative?”
“We need the UK, the EU in the room with people from Northern Ireland to talk through what needs to happen.
“What is happening is that they are talking over each other a lot of the time. We are going round in circles.”
The US delegation has now left Northern Ireland. Earlier this week Mr Neal faced intense unionist criticism for describing the protocol dispute as a “manufactured issue”.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson heavily criticised Mr Neal after meeting him at Stormont, describing the delegation’s fact-finding mission as the “most undiplomatic visit” he had ever seen to Northern Ireland.