Edwin Poots defends attempt to change Northern Ireland Protocol bill
Former DUP leader Edwin Poots has defended an apparent attempt to change the Northern Ireland Protocol bill.
Northern Ireland’s executive and assembly has been blocked from forming by the DUP in protest against the protocol, though Mr Poots has said he supports the bill.
The Financial Times reported Mr Poots, while serving as agriculture minister, wrote to then UK environment secretary George Eustice in July 2021 to say it was “unacceptable” farmers in Northern Ireland would be forced to accept the same agricultural subsidy regime as the rest of the UK.
He argued that “in so far as agriculture is concerned, the state aid arrangements… of the protocol, provide significant policy flexibility for Northern Ireland”.
“The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is proposing to disapply the approach to subsidy control that we currently have (which works) and extending the (UK’s Subsidy Control Act) (which doesn’t work) to Northern Ireland. This is unacceptable and we need a solution,” he added.
Mr Poots on Friday told the paper he “reasonably suggested one change which would maximise the UK’s ability to use state aid under World Trade Organisation rules”.
He added: “If the NI Protocol Bill were to be progressed as currently drafted, that would remove the EU State Aid framework and bring NI agriculture within scope of the UK domestic subsidy control regime.
“That imposes a different set of requirements and the agricultural policy framework would need to be assessed in light of this different regime.”
It comes after Mr Poots’ successor Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement will pass with no government at Stormont unless the protocol is replaced.
Speaking in London on Thursday, the DUP leader said the post-Brexit trading treaty had to be replaced by arrangements that were supported by unionists.
The DUP insists it will not countenance a return to Stormont until the economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland created by the protocol are removed.
Earlier this week, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris introduced legislation to push back the deadline by which a Northern Ireland Executive must be formed and to cut MLAs’ pay.
Negotiations between London and Brussels aimed at securing changes to the protocol are continuing.