THE FARMERS’ Union of Wales (FUW) has warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson that unilaterally changing the Northern Ireland Protocol risks adding to the extreme economic pressures already being felt by UK businesses and consumers.
In a letter to Mr Johnson, FUW President Glyn Roberts said that while it is accepted that there is scope to improve the protocol, it was extremely concerning that the UK Government appeared to have shown a reluctance to negotiate changes on the basis of the numerous improvements proposed by the EU in October 2021.
“…given the international dismay in response to the UK Government’s publication of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which appears to seek to breach International Law by unilaterally changing the protocol, the FUW has grave concerns regarding the implications of such a rash move. In particular, the Bill clearly risks triggering a trade war with the European Union which would add to the extreme economic pressures already being felt by UK businesses and consumers” writes Mr Roberts.
The letter also highlights the fact that the particular impacts of the Northern Ireland Protocol were very clear and fully understood by those who took the time to read the EU withdrawal agreement, and were being discussed widely at the time the agreement was signed.
“As such, the problems caused by the protocol have come as no surprise – although it must be emphasised that these are accompanied by significant advantages for the majority of consumers and businesses in Northern Ireland – advantages that are not enjoyed by those in Wales and other parts of Great Britain.
This appears to be evidenced by the fact that Northern Ireland’s economy is outperforming that of Great Britain; that numbers of Northern Irish manufacturing jobs are growing four times faster than the UK average and that Northern Irish trade bodies are overwhelmingly supportive of the protocol,” the letter states.
The letter highlights that retaliatory actions by the EU may particularly target food exports which are already suffering as a result of checks at the EU border which Mr Roberts said
“…are inherent to the particular form of Brexit chosen by the UK Government-checks which the UK Government has chosen not to replicate, thereby providing a significant advantage to our EU competitors, a decision which may well also be in breach of International Law.”
The hard Brexit opted for by the UK Government is believed to be the main reason that UK food and drink exports fell in 2021 by 6% compared with pre-pandemic levels, with meat and dairy product exports particularly badly hit, falling by 15% and 24% respectively over the same period.
“Given that, prior to Brexit, around three quarters of Welsh food and drink exports were destined for the EU market, the prospect of a trade war with the EU is a major concern,”
said Mr Roberts, who also expresses concern that since the implications of the Northern Ireland Protocol were clear at the time of its signing, the course of action chosen by the UK Government
“…is causing great damage to the international reputation of the UK, suggesting, as it does, not only that the UK Government takes a cavalier approach to International Law, but also that it had no intention of honouring its word at the time of signing.”
Mr Roberts concludes the letter by stating
“In light of such concerns, I would implore you to halt all unilateral actions in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol and to re-enter negotiations with the European Union, as has been requested by a clear majority of Northern Ireland Assembly Members.