UK-EU Veterinary Agreement

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 4th May 2021.

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Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance 3:00 pm, 4th May 2021

9. Mr Dickson asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to outline what engagement he has had with the UK Government on a veterinary agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. (AQO 1983/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, the Northern Ireland protocol and domestic legislation, Northern Ireland must continue to align with the European Union’s sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules. I am firmly opposed to the detrimental impact of these newly mandated rules on Northern Ireland businesses and consumers, and to the barriers that they place on the intra-UK movement of animals, goods and products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. As such, I believe that we must get to a position in which we minimise the impact of these checks and then remove them entirely

Discussions are ongoing between the UK Government and the EU Commission, via the UK-EU Joint Committee, with the aim of finding what I hope will be viable solutions to a range of issues related to the Northern Ireland protocol, including SPS checks. The establishment of a common SPS area, under the terms of a potential UK-EU veterinary agreement, could assist in facilitating trade in live animals and agri-food products, which would be helpful. However, as it would not address the entirety of the rules associated with the implementation of the protocol, it cannot properly address the issue.

I have engaged and will continue to engage with my ministerial colleagues to explore all available options that could help to remove the protocol and its impact on Northern Ireland-GB trade. Nevertheless, responsibility on the future alignment of the UK within the EU SPS rules and the negotiation of any UK-EU veterinary agreement rests solely with the UK Government.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance 3:15 pm, 4th May 2021

Minister, your answer sounds as though you are engaged in doing practical things to deal with the protocol. I congratulate you on that and encourage you to continue down that route rather than trying to oppose the protocol.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member welcomes doing things that reduce the impact of the protocol. I also welcome those things. We do things that help, for example, potatoes or other materials to come into Northern Ireland, but many other things are negatively impacted. Ultimately, we need to deal with the underlying problem: the protocol. Northern Ireland does not pose a threat to the European Union single market. Consequently, goods that enter Northern Ireland from Great Britain — all part of the United Kingdom single market — should not be checked because they do not pose a threat to the single market. This is a political decision, taken at the behest of the Irish Government, but it is damaging Irish people living in Northern Ireland. They need to pull back from that decision and ensure that Northern Ireland is treated fairly and equitably within the United Kingdom.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

That ends the period for listed questions. We will now move to 15 minutes of topical questions.