The smaller Stormont parties are divided in their response to the UK’s decision to bring forward legislation that will disapply elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Alliance Party and the SDLP expressed concern following Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’s announcement that a new law would be introduced to change parts of the post-Brexit deal.
But the UUP described it a “step towards fixing the protocol in a pragmatic way”.
Alliance North Down MP Stephen Farry said the proposed action is “unwanted and unwarranted”, adding it “may prove to be counterproductive and destructive”.
He also described “much of the rationale cited by the Government” as “disingenuous”.
Mr Farry insisted the protocol brings opportunities as well as challenges for Northern Ireland.
“Everyone is frustrated at the slow pace of progress over the past 12 months. The EU should display greater flexibility. However the primary fault lies with the belligerent and begrudging approach taken by the UK Government,” he said.
“Any action or even threat of action that takes Northern Ireland out of the single market, including disapplying the jurisdiction of the ECJ, will undermine our region as an investment location. It would also lead to even greater political instability.
“The way forward lies in mutual agreement between the UK and EU around legal and sustainable solutions.”
SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood described the move by the Government as “absolutely astonishing”.
Speaking in the House of Commons he said: “The Foreign Secretary has confirmed that she’s going to go against the majority, despite what she might say, the majority of citizens in Northern Ireland who support the protocol, by ripping up an international agreement called the withdrawal agreement.
“It’s a very, very simple question despite what some people … they might not want to listen to the majority of people in Northern Ireland. It’s a very simple question – how can any international partner or how can any citizen in the north of Ireland ever trust this Government again?”
Ms Truss responded: “An overwhelming proportion of people in Northern Ireland, 78%, agreed that the protocol needs to change in polling conducted in December 2021.
“It is simply not true to say a majority of people in Northern Ireland support the protocol – what we want to find ideally, with the EU, is a solution that works for all the communities in Northern Ireland.”
Meanwhile UUP leader Doug Beattie welcomed Ms Truss’s stated preference for a negotiated outcome to protocol talks.
“But it is important to know that the UK Government is prepared to act to protect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market and remove the Irish Sea border as well as protecting the hard-fought-for Belfast Agreement,” he said.
“What is clear to me is that the EU needs to change its mandate. I believe that Maros Sefcovic understands and accepts the landing zone, but I sense the hurdles are other member states.
“We need cool heads, not knee-jerk reactions. Not the megaphone diplomacy that we saw from Simon Coveney over the weekend.
“There are clear problems that are in need of solutions rather than sanctimony, which does not help the people of Northern Ireland one jot.
“The solutions are there, the question is whether the political will is there to agree them.”