As Minister for the Department whose responsibilities are most affected by the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, I am fully aware of the difficulties that it is causing, especially the impact of additional new rules and the barriers that they place on the movement of goods, products and live animals from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, to which I am firmly opposed. I feel that those checks on intra-UK moves are unnecessary and totally unacceptable, as they place Northern Ireland businesses and consumers in an unfavourable position. While the current easements on the movement of goods from GB to NI are welcome, they are only interim solutions to the problems associated with the withdrawal agreement and the protocol. The situation will become impossible once the grace periods that are currently in place, primarily for retail goods, come to an end.
The issuing of the controlled stop to the contractors appointed to the design and build programme has triggered a compensation event. The review process for the compensation claims is ongoing, but DAERA has not been formally issued with any verified costs. Until all claims have been submitted by contractors and reviewed in accordance with the contract, the additional cost to the Department cannot be confirmed.
I hope that we will get that certainty and clarity over the next number of weeks, because it is for the UK Government to make that decision. The UK Government have been very well informed by the DUP Ministers on the Executive and, I assume, by others about the issues, complications and problems that come about as a consequence of the protocol, such as the cost to businesses and therefore consumers, the constitutional impact and the democratic deficit. I am not sure whether there is any other country that has 26 other countries making the rules that are implemented in that country and where individuals in that country have no say over the rules that they are being asked to enforce. That is undemocratic. I had always thought that the European Union was an organisation that supported democracy. We cannot therefore move forward with the protocol.
I disagree with the Minister on no one having any say, because the DUP has brought us to where we are. It is an outworking of Brexit. Can the Minister give us an assurance that the work on the construction of the point-of-entry facilities will proceed without further unnecessary and politically motivated delay?
The advice from the civil servants is that we cannot proceed. Once the civil servants arrive at some different conclusion, that is a decision for the Executive and not for me as Minister. It is a controversial decision and therefore requires the entire Executive's support. I can confirm that I will not be breaking the ministerial code by following your suggestions.
Does the Minister agree that the real and lasting cost of his implementation of the protocol is the distortion of trade arising from the intolerable impediments on trade within the United Kingdom and, of course, from the looming costs that have yet to land from the EU diktat that the cost of all the checks must be passed on to businesses? Have those costs even been quantified? How disastrous will they be?
The costs that I have for government alone, which are then supposed to be applied to businesses, are around £25 million per annum. The problem is that those are not the only costs for businesses, because they have to employ people to produce the common health entry documents (CHEDs) and carry out all the background paperwork. They have a series of pieces of work to do, to the point that one of our leading retailers, Marks and Spencer, apportioned a significant amount of the losses that it declared this year to the protocol and how it affected its supply of food to Northern Ireland.
We have 325 documentary checks a day in Northern Ireland, while, in Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe, there were 125. That is how preposterous the European Union imposition on Northern Ireland has been. I explained how preposterous it was to Maroš Šefcovic last Wednesday. The EU seems to be hanging its hat on dealing with it by having the Swiss model — I believe that the Swiss may want out of that — applied to all of the United Kingdom. In reality, that will not happen. Getting rid of the protocol is the only solution for the people of Northern Ireland, and the Government need to act.