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Editorial: Reality check on protocol debate

Aeneas Bonner

THERE are fact checks and reality checks and the Brexit debate has received a welcome dose of both in recent days.

It is exactly six years since the UK voted narrowly to sever ties with the European Union, and 18 months since the Northern Ireland Protocol came into force.

It has been a period characterised by political rancour on both sides of the Irish Sea and in particular around the introduction of new checks on goods travelling between Britain and Northern Ireland.

The controls were a way of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, keeping northern businesses within the single market and opening up new opportunities from dual access to the UK and EU.

Unionist politicians have opposed the protocol on the basis that it undermines the union.

However, leading figures have also claimed it has led to increased costs for businesses and consumers, with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson suggesting that shoppers are paying almost 20 per cent more than in Britain for some foods.

The organisation FactCheckNI has been examining the claims and, in a detailed analysis, has suggested the DUP has been selective in the products it cites.

Pointing out that the same research found that grocery prices in Britain are, on average, 8 per cent higher than in Northern Ireland, it commented: "Cherry picking facts to suit a narrative is one of the mainstays of the modern age of mis- and dis-information. Rarely, however, is it quite this brazen."

Separately, new research has suggested Northern Ireland's economy is expected to fare better than Britain thanks to the effects of the protocol.

The Resolution Foundation along with academics from the London School of Economics have added to a growing body of evidence highlighting the economic damage being inflicted by Brexit.

The researchers found that the aggregate effect of erecting trade barriers with the UK's largest market will be to reduce household incomes as a result of a weaker pound and lower investment and trade.

However, while withdrawing from the EU is thought to be exacerbating the cost of living crisis, the north may be spared its worst impacts due to its special post-Brexit trade arrangements.

It is increasingly clear that the protocol is mitigating the worst effects of the Brexit decision taken six years ago today.

The focus now should be on making it work as smoothly as possible for all businesses and rebuilding relationships between the UK, Ireland and EU for the economic benefit of all.

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