Food Producers: Protocol Benefits

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 21st June 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:15 pm, 21st June 2021

T1. Mr O'Toole asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs whether he will commit that if the European Commission and the UK can work together to mitigate movement of goods from east to west, he will ensure that we maximise the opportunities for our food producers under the protocol, given that, in his earlier answer, he acknowledged that the protocol does provide wins for food producers in Northern Ireland, albeit we agree that there are issues, such as east-west movement, that need to be dealt with. (AQT 1451/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The fundamentals of the protocol relate first to whether it is a democratic action. Does it change the constitution? It does change the constitution. Therefore, if you want to change the constitution, you should ask the people. If the Member is a democrat, he will want to ensure that the people are asked to support the protocol by a referendum or that we remove the protocol and find another means of doing things.

There are other means of doing things, and I have made a commitment that I want to find a solution. I believe that solutions exist, and I put one to Maroš Šefcovic last Wednesday. I want to find a solution that will ensure that we protect the single market and will not have barriers on the island of Ireland or in the Irish Sea. All those things are entirely achievable if the European Union wants to be entirely reasonable as opposed to being entirely unreasonable.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Can I deduce from that that the Minister would like Northern Ireland to continue to have unfettered access to the European single market, unlike Great Britain? The Minister acknowledges that that is a good thing.

While we are on democratic accountability and referendums, I am duty-bound to point out that the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain. However, will the Minister agree that continued access to the EU single market for our food producers is a good thing?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The argument that the DUP brought this about is nonsense and entirely wrong because it would not matter if every person in Northern Ireland had voted not to have Brexit; the majority in the United Kingdom voted to have it. That was the democratic decision of the country. The question was not, "Do you believe that Great Britain should leave the European Union?"; the question was, "Do you believe that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union?". Therefore, it should be the United Kingdom that leaves the European Union. That leads us to this circumstance.

The protocol was put forward as a solution; instead, it is a barrier. The protocol ensures that we do not have the trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland that previously existed. The consequence of that is that it is driving up costs. Anybody who is out and about will know that businesses say that costs are going up very regularly and that goods that they previously had are not available. That is not good for the people of Northern Ireland.

I encourage my colleague from South Belfast, instead of pursuing the agenda that the protocol and its rigorous implementation are good, to recognise that it is not good and that we need different solutions. I encourage him to support us in getting those solutions by going to the European Union and saying that this is wrong and that it is hurting the people of Northern Ireland. In particular, it is hurting the people who have the lowest incomes and can ill afford to have their food costs driven up as a consequence of the protocol.