Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced the bill to the House of Commons on Wednesday, drawing the ire of Brussels for its potential rollbacks on UK commitments made in January on state aid and customs checks on goods entering Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland protocol, which was included in the initial Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, gave goods from Northern Ireland access to the EU’s single market, given that customs checks would not have been conducted on the border with the Republic of Ireland.
Instead, goods from the rest of the UK at risk of entering the EU single market on the island of Ireland would have been required to undergo customs checks before entering Northern Ireland.
Despite the challenges this legislation would have created, Leheny said that at least the Northern Ireland Protocol gave businesses clarity at that time.
“I think businesses here want the Northern Ireland Protocol to work. The protocol gives businesses here certainty,” the industry official said.
With less than four months remaining until the end of the Brexit transition period, the Internal Market Bill has taken away the clarity that Northern Irish businesses once had, Leheny stated, adding that it also puts the possibility of a no-deal Brexit back on the table.
“The fear is now that the Internal Market Bill jeopardizes that and it lands us back in the no-deal territory, and with 16 weeks until the implementation of Brexit and what it means for us, it’s only given a lack of clarity again. We’re back to square one, whereas before we had something to work towards,” the industry official said.
Northern Irish businesses have been left feeling as if they are caught in the middle of the ongoing trade negotiations between Brussels and London, which have been at an impasse since the UK left the bloc on January 31, Leheny stated.
“They’re struggling and want to stay financially viable and they feel like they’re stuck in the middle of the negotiations between the UK and the EU. It’s not helpful for them, so they need the government to agree, first and foremost, a trade deal with the EU because without a trade deal, any checks or controls between Northern Ireland and Great Britain become a lot bigger,” the Logistics UK official stated.
According to Leheny, Northern Irish firms are hopeful that the UK and the EU will be able to agree on a free trade deal and implement the Northern Ireland protocol, which will give businesses the ability to trade freely with both the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the UK, which will be crucial to fund the post-coronavirus disease recovery.
Following the publication of the Internal Market Bill, European Parliament President David Sassoli warned that the UK’s trust and credibility are at stake if London rolls back on its commitments to the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
In an op-ed published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper on Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson slammed the EU, accusing the bloc of threatening the UK’s territorial integrity.
According to the prime minister, the EU has threatened to prevent the movement of food products from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland.
The Northern Irish Department for the Economy wrote in a 2019 report that a no-deal Brexit could put 40,000 jobs in Northern Ireland at risk. In the report, the department predicted that agri-food and haulage would be two of the most severely affected industries if the UK and EU are unable to agree on a trade deal by December 31.