Brexit: Lord Frost hits out at EU over Northern Ireland Protocol

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Ardagh Metal Packaging (AMP) became the latest business looking to take advantage of the region’s “best of both world’s” trading status yesterday, as it announced plans to build a $200million (£150million) beverage can plant near Belfast. The investment will create a total of 170 new jobs in the region. The project, which is one of the largest greenfield projects in the region since the UK left the EU, can be seen as a vote of confidence in the controversial Northern Ireland protocol.

AMP’s investment came days after Northern Irish pharmaceuticals group, Almac, announced it was creating 1,000 jobs in the region over the next three years as part of a global expansion.

Almac was generous in its praise of the protocol, saying that it offered “unique, unfettered and flexible access to the UK, Europe and beyond”.

The protocol, which was agreed as part of the December 2020 Brexit Agreement, gives Northern Ireland access to UK markets, while allowing it to remain within the EU’s single market for goods.

It was introduced in order to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, making Northern Ireland the only region in Europe with free access to both markets.

AMP, based in Luxembourg, plans to export drinks to both the UK and the EU.

The company has an impressive customer portfolio, including soft-drinks giant Coca-Cola.

Speaking to the Financial Times about the project, its chief executive Oliver Graham said: “We are delighted to be investing in Northern Ireland, supporting our clients’ sustainability needs and further reducing our carbon footprint by locating closer to our end customers.”

Michael Gove last year told the public that Northern Ireland would get “the best of both worlds” as a result of the protocol.

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However, it has come under fire in recent months, forcing the UK and EU to re-engage in talks to renegotiate the protocol.

Since the transition period ended on 31 December 2020 the protocol has been a point of friction, but it has escalated recently with Downing Street saying the way it is being operated by Brussels is unsustainable.

This is because products from Great Britain entering Northern Ireland have had to undergo EU import procedures at the ports, meaning that an Irish Sea border has effectively been imposed in an effort to prevent a physical border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

This has resulted in delays and supermarket shortages, with Lord Frost claiming that “more than 200 suppliers” had decided to stop selling to Northern Ireland.

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The EU and the UK are currently in talks to renegotiate the protocol.

However, Lord Frost has threatened to trigger article 16, which would suspend part of the deal, saying it may become “the only way forward”.

Speaking about the negotiations, chief executive of lobby group Manufacturing NI Stephen Kelly, said: “[Businesses are] concerned the uncertainty created around triggering Article 16 would be viewed as real [legal] jeopardy.

“The minute it’s done, Northern Ireland will be viewed as legally challenging and boardrooms and customer orders will begin to be impacted that very same day, that’s just the reality of it.”

Another business leader, who asked not to be named, told the Financial Times: “Triggering Article 16 would create another uncertainty lasting another 12 months if not longer, just as we’re entering the Christmas period.”

He said one manufacturing company had planned to move some operations from Ireland into Northern Ireland in order to benefit from both jurisdictions but had put the plans on ice while they “wait and see” how UK-EU talks go.

The two countries have just concluded their fifth week of talks.

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