12 Jun, 2023

Stephen Farry: In Pursuit of a Closer Relationship

Two years after Brexit, Northern Ireland must grab the unique opportunities offered by the Windsor Framework, writes Deputy Leader for the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland Stephen Farry MP. Though not a substitute for EU membership, dual market access offers the prospect of putting the Protocol wars to an end and growing the economy.  

This op-ed was originally published in ALDE Party's Liberal Bulletin in June 2023. 

Northern Ireland can only work on the basis of sharing and interdependence as facilitated by the Good Friday Agreement. This was reinforced by the joint UK and Irish membership of the European Union, and specifically the Single Market and Customs Union, which allowed open borders across these islands. 

Brexit, therefore, posed a massive existential threat to Northern Ireland. A hard Brexit necessitates a line on the map somewhere to manage the interface between the UK and EU Single Market. Any such line brings with it a degree of friction and a threat to some individuals' sense of identity. 

Accordingly, the particular challenges posed to Northern Ireland necessitate some form of special arrangement for our region. This evolved from the original proposal of the Backstop through to the Northern Ireland Protocol, and now the Protocol's evolution to the Windsor Framework. 

Alliance Party broadly welcomes the Windsor Framework, as it addresses many issues flagged by Northern Ireland businesses and other stakeholders. In doing so, it provides an even softer landing for Northern Ireland from a hard Brexit than the original Protocol. However, even the Windsor Framework is not a comprehensive substitute for Northern Ireland being fully part of the Single Market and indeed, the European Union itself. 

There have been many losses since leaving the EU, such as freedom of movement and European Union funding opportunities. That said, the Windsor Framework does provide Northern Ireland with some unique opportunities in terms of dual market access to both Great Britain and the wider European Union.  

With this agreement, Northern Ireland must fully capitalise on dual market access. This means investment in the skills base and pipeline alongside other key economic drivers. Crucially, it also requires political stability. That's why the failure of some political forces in Northern Ireland to rejoin and sustain the devolved political structures of the Good Friday Agreement is not only disappointing, but deeply damaging. This stalemate has affected our economy, public services and cohesion. 

Now, Northern Ireland should grab the opportunity offered by the Windsor Framework. While the pursuit of a closer relationship with the EU should continue, the Framework offers the prospect of putting the Protocol wars to an end and growing our economy, thanks to dual market access. 

Follow Farry on Facebook and Twitter. 

Follow Alliance Party of Northern Ireland on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

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