The Financial Times reports that the Democratic Unionist party privately lobbied the British government for a “Swiss-style” alignment with EU rules on food and agricultural products, an idea it now rejects as a solution to the difficulties created by Northern Ireland’s trade protocol.
The DUP’s current party line is to dismiss the idea of such an alignment, saying it would require the UK to “slavishly” align with Europe.
However, in a letter to agriculture secretary George Eustice last June seen by the Financial Times, the DUP’s Edwin Poots — then Northern Ireland’s agriculture minister — described the maximum alignment approach as a “key ask” in reducing the protocol’s impact.
“This could be achieved, for example, by dynamic alignment with relevant parts of the EU acquis and the UK joining the common veterinary area (as in the Swiss/EU arrangement),” he wrote in the letter copied to Scottish and Welsh governments.
Poots, who stepped back from his role this month after revealing he had cancer, said the demands “must be met” in order to avoid “unacceptable burdens” on Northern Ireland’s population.
The existence of the private lobbying effort emerged as the DUP calls on the British government to abandon the border arrangement, agreed by Boris Johnson as part of the 2019 UK Withdrawal Agreement.
The protocol requires all goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland to follow EU customs rules, and has become a flashpoint between the EU and the British government due to the paperwork it creates for goods moving within the UK.
The Poots letter highlights the DUP’s shifting stance on the protocol as it faces a public backlash from pro-British unionists in the region who wanted Northern Ireland to leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK.