With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will group questions 1 and 5.
Under the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, which embodies the Northern Ireland protocol, Northern Ireland is required to align with the European Union’s sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules, an agreement made by the UK and the EU that was not supported by any unionist party in Northern Ireland and runs contrary to the Belfast Agreement of 1998.
I am opposed to the detrimental impact of those additional rules on Northern Ireland businesses and consumers, specifically the barriers that they place on the movement of animals, goods and products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. I will therefore continue to engage with ministerial colleagues and the UK Government to press that position. Ultimately, the protocol needs to go. I am firmly of the view that any product that enters Northern Ireland as its end destination should not go under any checks. There are practical solutions for products that enter the EU single market via the Republic of Ireland. There should be no barriers to trade within the UK internal market. Any barriers are wholly unacceptable and go against the requirement of unfettered trade that is underpinned in the Act of Union.
To date, what compensation has been paid or is likely to be paid by the Department to contractors and those associated with the schemes at the points of entry?
That is not something that I am aware of or have engaged in; I have taken no role in that nor participated in it. As a consequence of the protocol, the estimations now are that, when the grace period ends, there will be 15,000 checks a week. That will have a damaging impact on every nationalist, every unionist and every other person in Northern Ireland, so we would do better not to have any new buildings constructed and not to have any checks on food that will end up on tables in Northern Ireland, having come from Great Britain.
First, not once have I authorised any infrastructure. This has been imposed by Westminster and has been paid for by Westminster to placate the demands of Dublin and, indeed, the pro-protocol parties — Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and the Green Party. As a result, every consumer will feel the pain of the protocol. Worse still, not satisfied with the onerous burdens and checks that are being imposed, those parties want more, because they want the rigorous implementation of it. One might expect that from republicans, because they do not mind wreaking damage on the wider community for their own ends, but the Alliance Party is a co-conspirator and cheerleader for things like the ponies being needlessly locked up, pets having medical interventions that are not required, the food in your cupboard costing more, supplies to business being interrupted and parcel deliveries being detrimentally impacted. That is what the Alliance Party and the republicans are delivering, and I want to see it removed.
Mr Chambers raises a valid point. All of the pedigree societies are being impacted on by the protocol. The integrity of the product that they sell is being impacted on because of the very issue that he raises about UK tags having to be changed. Again, that is unacceptable, and, again, it is something that we are raising, but it demonstrates that we have raised numerous issues with the protocol. The problem is not that there are issues with the protocol; the problem lies at its heart. It is wrong, and it needs to go.
That is a possibility, and it is for the British Government to consider it. It is also a possibility that any goods that are being consumed in Northern Ireland and any product that is coming to Northern Ireland and will remain here will have no detrimental impact on the European Union's single market. Mr Coveney, Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin could tell the European Union that that is the case and support us in getting the protocol removed.
I have indicated that I have no desire to hold that position. At every opportunity, I have raised the issue of the damage that the protocol is doing to Northern Ireland both verbally and orally. The UK Government and the European Union are aware of the harm that it causes and the significant further pain that will be inflicted as a consequence of the ending of the grace periods because it is self-evident. They know that the protocol is not fit for purpose. It was a mistake, and it must be replaced.
In January of this year, I instructed my officials to get senior counsel opinion from a top UK constitutional lawyer. On my return to office, an eminent QC was appointed and is scrutinising every aspect of the protocol. On the completion of that work, it is my intention to lodge judicial proceedings against the protocol. I hope that the Department for the Economy and the Department of Health — this is having major implications for medicines and medical devices — will join me in taking an action against the European Union and the UK Government for the damage that they are inflicting on all the people of Northern Ireland.