The EU will not rewrite or scrap the NI Protocol, despite demands from the UK government for significant amendments.
While a “constructive” meeting was held between Michael Gove and European Commission vice-president Maros Šefčovič this week, the EU is instructing the UK to refocus on the “proper implementation” of rules it agreed to in the Withdrawal Agreement and the UK-EU trade deal.
According to the FT, Šefčovič will travel to London next week for further talks in a bid to diffuse the current tensions that have resulted from checks for goods entering NI from GB.
Inspections at Larne and Dublin ports remained suspended for a third day yesterday following continued threats to border staff.
Gove sent a strongly-worded letter to the European Commission this week containing six demands for changes to the Protocol, including an extension of grace periods in NI.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK could use the emergency powers included in the Protocol under Article 16 to maintain the free flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The clause allows either the UK or EU to suspend the Protocol’s rules in the event of ‘economic, societal or environmental difficulties’.
However, Šefčovič told the Irish broadcaster RTE that the protocol already included “flexibility” to minimise border friction and urged the UK to “use and put into practice that flexibility”.
Despite the ongoing complications arising from the new rules, some Northern Irish firms have told the BBC that the protocol has given them a commercial advantage because they have market access to both the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain.
Newry sandwich maker Deli-Lites has supplied Boots in the Republic of Ireland for the past four years. It has now added a contract to supply stores in Northern Ireland, which used to be done by a firm in Great Britain.
Chief executive Brian Reid told the BBC: “What the Northern Ireland Protocol has given us is access to the Irish market and Europe, as well as access to the market in GB.”
Cheesemaker Ballylisk from Portadown has also seen a rise in demand from customers in both the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain.
Managing director Dean Wright said: “There’s certainly serious opportunity on the two islands here – why should we go into Europe when we have a very good market on our doorstep that maybe hasn’t been tapped into?”
Supply chain changes
Northern Irish firms could also benefit from companies reconfiguring their supply chains as a result of the new trade rules.
When Sainsbury faced product shortages in its NI stores due to border friction, it turned to Belfast-based wholesaler Henderson Group for supplies, according to the Grocer.
It is now supplying 300 products to Sainsbury and claims that 75% of its fresh products are made locally.