MAROS Sefcovic will today brief MLAs on the Northern Ireland Protocol in what is the European Commission vice-president’s first ever engagement with a parliamentary committee, either at Westminster or among the devolved administrations.
Mr Sefcovic’s will make a virtual appearance at an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Office scrutiny committee, speaking to assembly members about the “current and future workings of the protocol”.
His appearance will come less than 48 hours before publication of the judgment in the judicial review of the protocol brought by Jim Allister, Ben Habib and Baroness Kate Hoey.
The TUV leader said he expected the judgement on Wednesday morning.
Colin McGrath said today’s virtual meeting with Mr Sefcovic would be an “important evidence session” from someone who had “consistently shown a willingness to protect the interests of Northern Ireland throughout the Brexit process”.
“This is an important opportunity to reflect some of the concerns that have been raised with us about the operation of the protocol but, importantly, to make clear that we need to promote the unique benefits of dual market access that businesses and investors in Northern Ireland have,” he told The Irish News.
“We have a unique competitive advantage that is being drowned out by the negativity surrounding the protocol.”
The SDLP MLA said Vice-President Sefcovic’s willingness to meet with MLAs and listen to the everyone’s concerns “stands in stark contrast with Lord Frost who has yet to engage with us”.
“That seems to be part of a wider dismissive attitude to devolution from the British government,” he said.
Mr McGrath said Lord Frost had been asked to speak to the committee but had yet to respond, while Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove had declined an invitation.
Ahead of today’s meeting former economy minister Diane Dodds challenged commission vice president to “stop ignoring the views of unionists”.
“The European Union leaders of the past have been friends to Northern Ireland – Jacque Delors, whilst imperfect, genuinely sought to protect peace and stability by using his influence and EU funds,” she said.
“Foolishly and narrow-mindedly though, the current crop of leaders in Brussels have sought to use Northern Ireland as a bargaining chip to punish the United Kingdom.”
Mrs Dodds said the EU position on the protocol “defies logic”.
“Stability is best secured in Northern Ireland when there is broad support,” she said.
“Yet, not one single unionist MLA is a cheerleader for the protocol, but Maros Sefcovic still argues that it is the best outcome for Northern Ireland.”
Sinn Féin Junior Minister Declan Kearney said there was “no credible alternative to the protocol”.
“We have been told repeatedly by farmers, manufacturers, retailers and traders that they need the protections provided by the protocol, and that they want to see it implemented smoothly and in full to provide them with the stability they want,” he said.
“This will establish a strategic platform from which to have ongoing access to the Single European Market.”
Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs has claimed Stormont’s “pro-protocol parties” are failing to recognise the impact of the post-Brexit trade arrangements on medical supplies.
“The current exemption for Northern Ireland medical supplies from the NI Protocol is due to end at the end of the year but with suppliers having to give six months notice of their intention to cease supply, the NI Protocol will start to affect medical supplies from July 1,” he said.
“It is disappointing that the EU have not responded to my concerns raised some six weeks ago. This dangerous and unnecessary attempt to regulate the supply of medicines to our health service through the protocol must go.”
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