Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 28th June 2021.
T6. Mr McHugh asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister, who will know that the majority of people in the North of Ireland opposed Brexit and, in reflecting that position, the Assembly has repeatedly endorsed the protocol as the necessary mechanism to mitigate some of the worst impacts of Brexit, whether they agree that today’s appearance of Maroš Šefcovic at the Committee for the Executive Office was a positive development and that his contribution and comments demonstrate the constructive approach of the EU to mitigating the negative effects of Brexit on the island of Ireland. (AQT 1476/17-22)
There is no Executive agreement on Brexit, but the appearance of Maroš Šefcovic at the Committee was a positive development. It is really important that he hears at first hand that the DUP does not speak for the North on Brexit or the protocol. On the EU's part, it shows positive intent that it is prepared to come to the Assembly to listen to our locally elected representatives and hear the reassertion of our continued support for the pragmatic implementation of the protocol and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement. His contribution today demonstrates the constructive approach of the EU to mitigating the negative effects of Brexit on the island of Ireland.
We can never forget that we have the protocol because we have Brexit, which was not our wish and was imposed on us. The protocol is necessary to provide the protections that businesses, farmers, retailers and manufacturers need. Together, we need to put our efforts into ensuring delivery of the protocol, as agreed, maximising the advantage to businesses here of unfettered access to British and EU markets and making sure that we work to iron out the issues that need to be resolved because we have to deal with the consequences of the Brexit that we neither wanted nor voted for.
Often, we hear that businesses find solutions to problems: they may go over them, round them or under them, but they find solutions. Do you agree that the wholly negative presentation of the protocol by some needs to be challenged, given that many of our businesses are seizing the opportunity that it provides? Those businesses want more focus on the building of special status, which affords the North unique access to the British market and the EU's single market to help to attract investors and create jobs for us in the North of Ireland.
Some of the narrative around the protocol clearly flies in the face of reality and is directly contradicted by the fact that many businesses are seeing and utilising the advantages with which the protocol provides them. It has provided us with a special and unique status that should be embraced. Of course, there are issues that need to be addressed in a pragmatic fashion and solutions need to be found, but that does not change the fact that the protocol is necessary. It was agreed and it needs to be implemented, and we need to give businesses the certainty and stability that they tell us every day that they crave.