A reformed Northern Ireland Protocol should retain the region’s unfettered access to the EU single market, the Northern Ireland Secretary has said.
Brandon Lewis said the aspect of the protocol that enables traders in the region to sell without restriction into the European market provided Northern Ireland with a “unique” economic benefit.
Hard-line unionist opponents of the protocol insist Northern Ireland should be placed on exactly the same footing as the rest of the UK when it comes to trade, regardless of the advantages or disadvantages of having different arrangements.
They insist that is a fundamental tenet of the 1800 Acts of Union that created the United Kingdom.
However, Mr Lewis made clear that the UK government wants to retain arrangements that treat Northern Ireland differently to Britain.
The Secretary of State said London wanted to reform the elements of the protocol that have placed economic barriers on the movement of goods from Britain to Northern Ireland.
But he insisted the dual market access that allows Northern Ireland business to sell unfettered within the Britain market and into the EU single market should be kept.
“We want those benefits for businesses and people in Northern Ireland,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.
“I’ll be very clear if we can make sure that businesses have got that full access to the UK internal market with the access to the EU single market, then absolutely Northern Ireland has a unique position to be able to have an opportunity beyond pretty much anybody else in the world.
“I’ve got a lot of criticism for making that very point over the last two years. But that is still the case.
“The problem at the moment is they’re not able to take advantage of that because of what the EU wants to do in terms of their implementation (of Irish Sea checks).”
Mr Lewis added: “We’ve always said we want to make sure we’re fixing the problems in the protocol.”