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Advisers call for clarity on Northern Ireland protocol bill

Advisers call for clarity on Northern Ireland protocol bill
Boris Johnson standing at a podium outside Downing Street

As the Northern Ireland protocol bill enters its committee stage in the House of Commons, advisers have warned that clarity is needed so that businesses can adapt accordingly.

Eamon Southwell, principal of Belfast based advice firm Marlborough Place warned that the uncertainty surrounding the bill and the UK’s relationship with the EU is unsettling for businesses.

“The protocol is an advantage giving access to both markets but the problem with the government is they are not listening to Northern Ireland - they have gone into this without fully thinking about it.” 

Last month, prime minister Boris Johnson secured a 74-vote majority for the bill, which if passed will give government the power to scrap parts of the post-Brexit deal between the UK and the EU.

The protocol forms part of the Brexit deal and keeps Northern Ireland in the EU's single market for goods.

Brussels responded to the bill by restarting legal proceedings against the UK and threatening to use “all measures at its disposal”, including a potential trade war, if the UK acted to unravel the protocol.

Chris Bryans, senior partner at advice firm, Richmond Wealth, who have bases in London, Belfast and Holywood in Northern Ireland told FTAdviser the issue of implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol is being used for political ends. 

“The opportunity presented by the Northern Ireland protocol whereby Northern Ireland is both inside the EU single market and inside the UK market is something widely recognised as beneficial.”

Not everyone in the sector has concerns around the impact the bill might have on the UK economy however. 

A spokesperson for Canada Life, who does not have an office in Northern Ireland, but sells its products there, said they are not expecting a negative fallout from the bill but that they “will continue to keep an eye on the developing situation.”

Single market

In addition to the current uncertainty, Southwell also expressed disappointment that Northern Ireland is not in the single market for services pointing to the fact that Belfast is a tech hub where the cost of doing business could be cheaper than Dublin. 

Bryans agreed with Southwell on this and said that it was disappointing from a financial services standpoint that Northern Ireland was not in the single market for services.

“This could very easily have allowed Belfast, Newry and Derry to capture a lot of the jobs that have been instead relocated to Dublin, Paris and Amsterdam,” he said.

In Bryans’ experience, a lot of clients are of the view that the protocol in its current form is broadly favourable although there are some things that could make it operate more smoothly.

“The six counties of Northern Ireland seem to be on a path towards inclusion, prosperity and a more peaceful future – one that provides opportunity and recognises a shared culture and history.  Most people would recognise we should not permit this bright future to be derailed over the relatively small risks represented by trade passing through Belfast and Larne.”