29 March 2018
Diane Dodds talks about the triggering of Article 50 on first anniversary.
Member of the EU Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, Substitute member of the EU Fisheries Committee
One year on from the triggering of Article 50 we can take heart that we are closer to a deal than at any previous point in negotiations. This is not to say we should be complacent - the current terms are far from perfect and we have not yet passed the point of no return to avoid a ‘no deal’.
The implementation period to run to the end of 2020 gives clarity and certainty to local business and freedom for the UK to agree new global free trade deals offers potential to grow high-quality local exports. Further commitments in the areas like research, funding, security, aviation and citizens rights will ensure future cooperation in areas of common interest and benefit. This is good work but there is much more to do.
It is clear from the past twelve months that every negotiation requires give and take. When it comes to the Northern Ireland border the EU has failed to bring its much-lauded flexibility to the table. Where its proposals threatened the economic and constitutional interests of Northern Ireland the DUP was not slow to make our case. Last December we successfully secured guarantees that unimpeded access for local businesses to the UK internal market would be retained under any Brexit outcome.
72% of trade in and out of Belfast Harbour is with Great Britain whilst less than one fifth is with the rest of the EU. Of large businesses (over 250 employees) in Northern Ireland which do business inside the UK and with the Republic of Ireland, sales to GB were 10 times more valuable than those going across the border in 2015. It is undeniable, whether unionist, nationalist, remainer or brexiteer, that our east-west trade relationship generates unmatched prosperity for everyone living in Northern Ireland.
Those who talk up a hard border cannot plausibly argue that the answer is to create a new, vastly more problematic, border with Great Britain. In the event that trade talks or specific solutions fail to fully deliver a frictionless border we have ensured that any approach to a third ‘backstop’ option following limited EU rules will be a United Kingdom-wide approach. No current or past EU text, leaked memo or media soundbite since December has changed this.
Ensuring a sensible Brexit for our Province requires going beyond simply defending Northern Ireland’s current position. This means finding practical solutions to the emotive issue of the border, which has won many hearts but thus far very few open or practical minds. It is worth remembering that the Irish Republic inspects only 1% of goods reaching their shores from outside the EU - second only to Gambia in the fewest physical checks. Given the UK commitment to lift and shift EU rules into UK law it is hard to see how Brexit could therefore equate to the draconian type of border predicted in some quarters.
In practice it makes little sense for the Irish Government to adopt a single-track focus of addressing the land border if far more significant economic frontiers at places like Holyhead and Dover are not resolved. An estimated two-thirds of Irish exports to the continent, including many perishable goods, move via the UK land-bridge. 39% of all Irish containers transit Northern Ireland. Drawing a border in the Irish Sea wouldn't make their movement any easier. That is why we should look at the border issue in the context of the overall relationship. An ambitious free trade deal covering all goods and separate customs partnership can remove the vast majority of friction as a starting point - at every land, sea and air border crossing. In effect, the fewer trade barriers, the fewer the solutions required.
Pragmatic solutions do exist but they hold relevance beyond simply the Northern Ireland border. Respected international customs expert Lars Karlsson has given evidence in the European Parliament and at Westminster. His message very clearly is that a ‘Smart Border’ concept involving digital technology, electronic declarations and trusted trader schemes can be implemented at every UK-EU border and would work under any political outcome.
Moving away from the notion of special treatment to smart solutions can help to make commitments to Northern Ireland operational in a way that respects both internal markets.
As trade talks get underway it is important that all sides take stock of progress achieved to date and pursue a close a vibrant future partnership in the interests of all of our people. The DUP will continue to work to ensure that the interests and needs of our Province are respected.