Ulster Unionist leader, Steve Aiken OBE MLA, said:
“The proposals published by the Government in relation to Northern Ireland and the EU Withdrawal Act don`t provide the absolute certainty which businesses need and they certainly won`t assuage the concerns of unionists to see further confirmation that infrastructure will be built at Northern Ireland ports and airports. Both the UK and EU said at one time or another that checks should be light touch. This document is inconsistent with those comments. Both the UK Government and EU have time to revisit those arrangements to make them as light touch as possible.
“Those who focused so forcefully on maintaining unfettered north south trade on the island of Ireland without defending the importance of maintaining unfettered trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain with the same gusto, bear a heavy responsibility for what is happening today. There shouldn`t be any hindrance to the flow of trade within our own country and access to our single biggest market in Great Britain, where we source so many of our supplies and sell so many of our goods.
“The idea of the EU having a permanent office in Belfast, with representatives who have extra jurisdiction powers like the EU had in the Balkans, is simply not acceptable in the UK. It is inconceivable that any EU country would accept that on their sovereign territory. Neither should we. It is more than regrettable that what should be an administrative arrangement is being used as a bargaining chip by the EU.
“The UK Government now needs to stand up and defend the interests of Northern Ireland in continued negotiations with the EU. The public words of Government ministers in the past haven`t matched their subsequent actions. It`s time they did.
“Important questions are also raised about the role of the Executive. The document makes clear that the Scottish and Welsh Governments have been involved. I accept that the Executive was only re-established in January and nobody was expecting to be dealing with a pandemic, but it shouldn`t prevent more in depth involvement of the Executive in feeding into this process.”