A Unionist politician tried to water down the British bill which targeted the Northern Ireland Protocol

According to a letter seen by the Financial Times, a leading unionist politician in Northern Ireland has lobbied the British government to water down legislation that gives British ministers the power to dismantle a post-Brexit deal governing trade in Northern Ireland.

The Democratic Unionist Party expressed its support legislationwhich threatens to unilaterally sweep away the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, which has soured relations between London and Brussels since Brexit.

However, despite union condemnation of the protocol, former DUP leader Edwin Poots wrote to the UK government last July while he was Northern Ireland’s agriculture secretary, arguing that farmers in the region would be better off under the protocol.

The DUP has vetoed Northern Ireland’s political institutions since May to push for sweeping changes to the post-Brexit trading system.

Poots defended his move on Friday, arguing that while the protocol was “totally unacceptable”, it was “totally reasonable” to seek to support farmers.

“There’s nothing wrong with cherry-picking,” he told the FT, adding that Northern Ireland “must respond to certain circumstances if necessary”.

Under a protocol agreed between the EU and the UK in 2019, Northern Ireland continued to follow EU rules on trade in goods to avoid the return of a trade border on the island of Ireland.

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Under Article 10 of the agreement, Northern Irish goods and agricultural support fell under the EU’s state aid scheme – but the region gave generously £382m annual exemption on farm subsidies.

In a letter to George Eustice, then UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Poots said it was “unacceptable” that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, if passed, would force farmers in the region to accept the same agricultural support system like other countries. the United Kingdom.

While noting his “deep-seated” concerns about the protocol, Poots argued that “when it comes to agriculture, the state aid provisions . . . provide considerable political flexibility for Northern Ireland’.

Since Brexit, EU state aid rules no longer apply to Britain, which has created a tailored UK aid system through the Aid Control Act, which six on January 4.

Poots argued that the UK’s new regime would be less generous to Northern Irish farmers than existing arrangements with the protocol.

He said the UK’s aid control system, if applied to agriculture, would cause “significant difficulties” for farmers across the country and that “the proposed Northern Ireland Protocol Bill now directly extends these difficulties to Northern Ireland”.

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Poots concluded: “The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill proposes to move away from the current approach to grant control (which works) and extend [UK’s Subsidy Control Act] (which doesn’t work) to Northern Ireland. This is unacceptable and we need a solution.”

Poots said he had “no recollection” of hearing back from London. The Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture said: “The agricultural policy framework is compatible with and has been designed in line with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“If the NI Protocol Bill were to go ahead as currently drafted, it would end the EU’s state aid framework and bring NI agriculture under the UK’s domestic aid control system. This imposes different requirements, and the agricultural policy framework must be evaluated in the light of this different system.”

The British government said on Friday that the protocol bill would “resolve practical issues” in the event that a negotiated solution to the implementation of the protocol cannot be reached.

“The Bill will fix the unacceptable tax and spending disparity between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country, ensuring that businesses can receive the same support across the UK,” the spokesman added.

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Poots was forced to resign as Agriculture Secretary at the end of October after a statutory deadline to restore executive powers in Northern Ireland expired. The region is now run by civil servants, and London has said new elections will be called early next year unless executive powers are restored.

According to a senior industry figure, the protocol has enabled Poots to provide £50m of support to beef and other farmers to produce sustainably.

“With the protocol, you have the opportunity to spend £50m on these measures,” the person said, adding that they are the envy of farmers in other parts of the UK. If the bill were to be adopted, he added, “we would have no idea what the politics of the future are.”

Talks between London and Brussels on the protocol continued on a more upbeat note, but Foreign Secretary James Cleverly stressed this month that both sides still needed to resolve difficult issues and “yet [to] see a route’.

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/a434beca-d365-4532-96fb-1b55d59ee1ec