Arlene Foster demands alternative to Northern Ireland protocol in swipe at Boris Johnson

Arlene Foster calls for change from ‘damaging’ NI protocol

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The First Minister said the protocol has been “absolutely devastating” for Northern Ireland. She also warned of an avalanche of checks on goods arriving into the region after grace periods end, insisting that was not what Brexit was about. Last week, Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Robert Huey told a Stormont committee that Northern Ireland could soon be required to carry out the same number of agri-food checks as the EU currently does as a whole.

Boris Johnson said on Sunday that the current stand-off with the European Union about trade regulations in Northern Ireland was “bound” to happen.

Asked about Lord Frost telling Brussels to stop sulking over Brexit, the Prime Minister told broadcasters: “I think this is one of those issues we were always bound to have in the early stages of our new relationship with our friends in the EU and the various technical issues we are going to iron out.

Speaking during a visit to a vaccination centre in north London, he said: “I’m full of optimism about the future and the partnership we are building.”

Mrs Foster welcomed “small moves” by the UK Government in extending some of the grace periods on checks under the protocol.

But she said minds must now concentrate on finding a replacement for the mechanism which keeps Northern Ireland in EU customs rules.

“I welcome the fact that Government did move, but there’s much more to do, and actually the architecture of the protocol itself needs to be dealt with,” she told LBC Radio’s Swarbrick On Sunday show.

“There are other alternatives; of course those alternatives were rejected by the European Union, whether it was alternative arrangements, whether it was their own smart borders or indeed mutual enforcement which, of course, could be put in place as well.

“In order to find a solution, you have to have people who are willing to look for a solution, and up until now when we have indicated that the entire unionist community in Northern Ireland want this protocol gone. The answer you get from the European Union is ‘Yes, we should have more protocol’. It’s crazy, absolutely crazy.”

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Mrs Foster said that once the grace periods on checks on goods under the Northern Ireland Protocol end, the number of agri-food certificates needed to come from Britain into Northern Ireland “will be close to the number currently processed by the European Union as a whole”.

“How is that proportionate in terms of what goes across from Great Britain into Northern Ireland?” she said.

“And what it is doing is causing a diversion of trade from GB into Northern Ireland, so Northern Ireland people are going to have to say ‘I need to find different suppliers’, and that’s not what Brexit is about.”

“Brexit was about the United Kingdom standing on the global stage, moving forward together, but because of this disastrous protocol that we have, that is not happening.”

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The DUP’s partners in government, Sinn Fein, have a very different view of the protocol.

Earlier, Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy accused the UK Government of “getting into a Mexican stand-off” with the EU.

He said the grace period extensions provide some short-term clarity for some people, but in the longer term it will damage the relationship between the UK and EU.

“The idea of doing a solo run on this, I think, is hugely damaging in the longer term, so if people think it might push that particular problem up the pipe for another few weeks or a month that’s well and good, but in the longer term business here need certainly,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme.

“I’ve spoken to the American administration, we’ve been speaking to European people. They are looking at what is the long-term future here, and if the British Government are going to get into a Mexican stand-off with the European Commission, then we are going to be the casualty in the middle of that.”

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