The “time-consuming” bureaucracy of the NI protocol is stifling business

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson – Mark Marlow/PA

The scale of red tape created by the Northern Ireland Protocol and Brexit was revealed for the first time on Thursday by new government officials.

Businesses made more than one million customs declarations to move goods from Britain to Northern Ireland in 2021, the first year the Protocol came into force.

A total of 10,400 companies were required to declare goods worth around £12.4 billion, even though the goods never left the UK, due to the rules of the Protocol.

HM Revenue and Customs statistics were seized by the DUP, who refuse to restore power-sharing at Stormont unless the Protocol is removed or replaced.

Lucy Frazer MP, finance minister for the Treasury, warned that red tape would only worsen if the Protocol was fully implemented and not renegotiated.

The former Solicitor General told the Telegraph: “If nothing changes, every year thousands of traders will have to fill in millions of forms even though their goods never cross international borders.”

“Some businesses will spend more time filling out just one form than it would take to fly from London to Belfast – that’s time-consuming and expensive,” said the Tory MP for South East Cambridgeshire.

The treaty created a customs border between Northern Ireland and Britain to prevent a hard border with EU member Republic of Ireland that could jeopardize the peace process.

Northern Ireland continues to follow hundreds of EU rules and in return has lucrative dual access to the single market and the UK market.

Customs checks are carried out on British products to ensure they meet EU standards should they cross the Irish border into the Republic of Ireland.

The Government argues that the Protocol has a chilling effect on trade with Northern Ireland and is unduly burdensome when many goods will remain in Northern Ireland.

He demanded sweeping changes to the treaty, which Brussels refused.

The House of Commons has now passed a bill giving ministers the power to unilaterally strike down parts of the treaty, which the EU says would breach international law.

Both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have pledged to press ahead with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill if elected to lead the Conservative Party.

The HMRC statistics were released as the Office for National Statistics released GDP figures suggesting a “protocol bounce” for the Northern Ireland economy was either misplaced or wiped out.

The ONS trial figures for the third quarter of 2021, published last year, showed Northern Ireland outperforming other regions of the UK, which some credited to the Protocol and the access it gives to the EU’s single market.

However, new GDP figures for the fourth quarter of last year showed that Northern Ireland grew by 1 per cent, less than England (1.4 per cent) and less than the 1.6 per cent in Scotland and Wales.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, accused the Protocol supporters of “wanting to destroy the Northern Ireland economy and bury our supply chains under a mountain of Protocol red tape”.

“The incoming prime minister must hold [the NI Protocol Bill] we will move with pace in the Lords and ensure we are able to reverse the economic and constitutional damage,” he said.

Stephen Farry, an Alliance MP, said the Protocol was “a necessary but incomplete measure to address Northern Ireland’s particular circumstances from a hard Brexit”.

“The currently unilateral protocol bill is completely counterproductive,” he said, because trade frictions could only be resolved through negotiations with the EU.

Stephen Kelly, CEO of Manufacturing NI, said the statistics did not reveal the value of trade between Britain and Northern Ireland or how the Protocol had affected it.

The data should be used to find adjustments to ease the burden on merchants, he said.

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