Lord Empey: We need politics that work instead of polemics

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Lord Empey: We need politics that work instead of polemics

The Ulster Unionist Party has believed that by collapsing Stormont, some unionists are doing Sinn Fein’s dirty-work by justifying the republican’s charge that Northern Ireland is a failed political entity. 

We are in the teeth of an economic storm. With rents increasing, mortgage rates pushing people closer to the edge and hospital waiting lists getting longer by the day the people need their devolved Assembly more than ever.

It has been suggested that one way around the log-jam is for Westminster to create/amend legislation that will give unionists confidence that our place in the Union is not under threat from the Protocol/Windsor Framework (PWF).

Since 2019, Ulster Unionists have been proposing measures to achieve just that. It is illegal for businesses to refuse to trade with people in the UK internal market because, for example, of their race, religion or gender, but as we have seen since the introduction of the Protocol, businesses can discriminate because of where UK citizens live. 

Geography, it seems, is now a legitimate ground for GB based businesses to refuse to sell to a person or business in Northern Ireland. This is wrong and by correcting this the government could help build confidence.

Northern Ireland took the fall for Brexit, which was ill thought out and badly negotiated. In these circumstances our own Government should ensure that citizens in Northern Ireland can access the same products available to all other citizens of the UK.

This concept was referred to in the Command Paper of July 2021 which was lifted from our policy paper of February of that year.

To ascertain a Government response, I asked two Parliamentary Questions (attached) which were answered on 8th June. The Government says it is ‘unequivocal in its commitment for unfettered access for NI goods to the whole UK market.’ While this response is welcome, what it does not deal with is goods coming the other way.

It is the case that Royal Mail is required by law to deliver letters to any part of the UK for the same price, whether that be central London or a remote Scottish island. It is part of keeping a nation together.

While not wishing to impose additional costs on GB businesses, we have suggested that businesses who have ceased trading in Northern Ireland are helped to deal with any aspects of the new arrangements and where required undertake work to ensure they avoid any financial penalty for trading with this part of the UK

Furthermore, to address the constitutional implications of the Protocol and Windsor Framework, Ministers should be put under a legal obligation to ‘have regard to Article 6 of the Act of Union’ when taking decisions relevant to the Windsor Framework. 

This would ensure that they act with this in mind when it would come to decisions on the application of the Stormont Brake and future EU proposals as they may arise, especially if significant divergence were to emerge between regulations introduced by the EU applying to Northern Ireland and regulations applying in Great Britain.

These confidence building measures could go some way to create momentum towards the much-needed restoration of the Institutions.

However, honesty with the public is also essential in building confidence. In the view of the Ulster Unionist Party, no piece of legislative change, even that which we are proposing, will prevent this government from implementing the Windsor Framework to which it is fully committed. 

We want a restored Stormont to begin at once preparing for the review of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement between the UK and the EU coming up in 2025. 

This will be our next big chance to undo some of the damage done as a result of Brexit. 

There is much work to be done. There are many issues that need addressing. We need Stormont restored. We need politics to work for all of the people of Northern Ireland.