Unionists describe reports of customs deal as 'kite-flying'

Paul Reilly reports on the latest developments over the Northern Ireland Protocol

Unionists have described newspaper reports that the UK and EU have potentially reached a breakthrough customs deal to resolve issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol as "kite-flying".

According to the Times, the EU accepted a plan that would avoid routine checks on goods going into Northern Ireland.

A source at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) suggested the Times' report was speculative, saying officials were engaged in "intensive scoping talks" with Brussels and declining to pre-empt the discussions.

DUP MP Ian Paisley said there was a need to "focus on the prize of a solution instead of the speculation".

Meanwhile, TUV leader Jim Allister described the report in the newspaper as an illustration of "just how feeble the Government’s efforts are when it comes to resolving the constitutional crisis of the protocol."

The protocol is a trade agreement which was made during Brexit negotiations between the UK and EU.

It was designed with the aim of keeping the Irish land border free-flowing, and has resulted on checks on certain items travelling from GB to NI.

Due to its concerns over the trade agreement, the DUP withdrew from the executive and has since refused to re-enter power-sharing.

On Wednesday, North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley responded: "Kite-flying, wishful thinking by commentators and background briefing will not make the substantive changes needed to satisfy our seven tests and restore devolution. 

DUP MP Ian Paisley. Credit: PA

"The message has landed in Brussels and London that there will be no restoration of the NI Executive until the protocol is replaced with arrangements that unionists can support," he added.

"It was a mistake to press ahead and ignore the opposition of unionists in 2020.  That has been recognised in London, Dublin, Brussels and Washington. They should not make the same mistake twice. 

"So let’s focus on the prize of a solution instead of the speculation.  The Protocol must be replaced by arrangements that restore NI’s place in the UK internal market and our constitutional position must be respected.”

MLA for the North Antrim area, and leader of the TUV Jim Allister said suggestions of a deal as reported in the Times "do nothing to address the fundamental sovereignty issues of Northern Ireland being subject to a foreign legislature whose laws we don't make and can't change.

"Nor, do they address the equally obnoxious constitutional affront of being in a foreign VAT regime, foreign Single Market and under a foreign Customs Code.

"These are the core issues, which the current talks are not even addressing.

“Unless and until the U.K. reclaims the EU’s ill-gotten sovereignty over Northern Ireland, they are wasting everyone’s time.

“As I’ve said repeatedly it is the legal text of the iniquitous Protocol that counts, not the spin of Downing Street. The text is not changing through these talks and, therefore, the problem is not being tackled. All of which means there can be no prospect of any Unionist of principle rolling over and implementing the Protocol through Stormont.”

In response to the Times article, Downing Street said there is "still lots of work to do" to get a deal with the European Union on the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I would steer you away from some of the speculative reporting we've seen today.

"No deal has been agreed, there is still lots of work to do on all areas, with significant gaps remaining between the UK and EU positions.

"Talks are ongoing on potential solutions including on goods."

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