Goods are “flowing smoothly” into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK following the introduction of key provisions of the Windsor Framework, Chris Heaton-Harris has told peers.
The Northern Ireland Secretary also said he would not comment publicly after being questioned by DUP peer Lord Dodds if negotiations were taking place with the European Union to change the operation of the framework to allay unionist concerns.
Mr Heaton-Harris was giving evidence to the House of Lords Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland Committee on Wednesday.
The framework deal was struck by the EU and the UK earlier this year to reform the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol, which created internal UK trade barriers and led to the DUP collapsing the Stormont Assembly.
The unionist party has made clear it will not accept a return to devolution until the Government provides further assurances, by way of legislation, over Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.
A green/red lane system for the movement of goods and “not for EU” labels was among key measures of the framework which came into effect for Northern Ireland at the beginning of October.
Goods coming into the region which are travelling to the Republic of Ireland or elsewhere in the EU use the red lane, which includes customs declarations and some checks.
Goods to be sold in Northern Ireland use a green lane with minimal paperwork and no checks.
Addressing the committee, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “I would say the Windsor Framework delivers stability for the people of Northern Ireland, protects Northern Ireland’s place in the union and preserves the balance of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.
“It also provides the Northern Ireland Executive with a powerful say via the Stormont brake.
“We obviously have intensive work ongoing with Northern Ireland parties, including the Democratic Unionist Party, to finalise the conditions by which we can restore the devolved institutions.”
Lord Dodds asked about progress in relation to resolving issues of concern to the unionist community.
He said: “In relation to legislation which you are working on.
“Does the legislation alter the terms of the Windsor Framework and can you tell us whether you are in negotiations with the European Union at any level about changes to the substance of the framework or to its operation?”
The Northern Ireland Secretary said he would not comment in public about ongoing talks.
He provided an update to the committee on the implementation of the framework, stating that companies were recognising the benefit of dual access that Northern Ireland offered.
He said: “The Windsor Framework it came into operation practically with its first phase on October 1 and goods are flowing smoothly into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
“There are new retailers who are using those freedoms and facilitations that the Windsor Framework has brought.”
Baroness O’Loan told Mr Heaton-Harris there are”still major difficulties” in getting some products into Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Secretary said: “I would say that it’s a relatively straightforward mechanism.
“The wholesaler Booker has written to lots of its clients saying that goods that were previously not available under the protocol can now be available under the Windsor Framework.
“Businesses have seen the opportunities that do flow from the Windsor Framework and the constitutional position that puts Northern Ireland in of being able to supply goods into the European single market on an unfettered basis as well as the United Kingdom’s internal market.”