By Edward Ferrin – as Business and Economics Editor
As we try to emerge ahead from the pandemic, amid growing concern over the rate of public spending since 2020, is Northern Ireland about to be protected by the agreement between the British Government and the European Union? Unionist politicians and activists have argued consistently since the 2019 General Election that the Northern Ireland Protocol is separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom by an “Irish Sea Border.” Economically, the case of anti-Protocol activists may be less secure and tied in with movement of people alongside goods east-west and north-south: there opposition to the Protocol may be merely a good old scare tactic to win emotions in the May election to Stormont.
A recent economic study found that within the next three years, the economy of Great Britain will shrink by about 4%, while Northern Ireland’s by just 2.6%. Studies are mot naturally accurate answers to hypothetical scenarios in the world of economics. However, Northern Ireland is bogged down by poor running of the regional economy by elected leaders and a lack of long-term vision and investment. Putting it mildly, the connectivity and productivity of Northern Ireland has never had the edge over its neighbours in attracting new industry or building self-productive assets.
Recently, Belfast-based firm Kainos secured a landmark deal in which it acquired an asset in a US-based technology firm – this just goes to show how much Northern Ireland can achieve with a little effort. Questions over how we educate our young people to learn new skills appears every now and again, with apprenticeships sometimes leading to long hours and low pay. As well as this, there has been growing tensions between the Department for the Economy and the Department of Education as to who is responsible for dealing with these problems facing young people.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has become a disliked figure in Northern Ireland; the Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey, argues that the Exchequer at Westminster could have protected families from the recent Universal Credit cuts and energy crisis falling victim to “fuel poverty.” The three-year long budget planned by Conor Murphy is causing some pressures within different government departments. Alliance’s Naomi Long has raised concerns over cuts to the number of PSNI officers, while the DUP have been critical of the financial commitments made to education and infrastructure.
The Northern Ireland Protocol has been the focus of attention for the past few years among unionist politicians, like Jeffrey Donaldson, Kate Hoey, and Nigel Dodds. Yet it seems that again the Protocol has proven to been effective in dealing with the blow to the wider UK economy, securing Northern Ireland’s ability to deal with markets outside the United Kingdom’s internal economic corridor. Although unionists anger themselves over the British Government’s insistence to maintain good trade for 6% of Northern Ireland’s national product, we should seize the opportunity to open our markets to a more worldwide consumer – this can only be pushed further by opportunities to trade within the European single market and further afield with the help of the decisions made in the European Commission.
Maybe it is slightly too early to scrap the Protocol, if at all. As Boris Johnson’s position is becoming ever more like a starring role in the movie “Great Escape,” it’s becoming clear that the Protocol maybe used by one of his colleagues to garner support for a leadership bid. If so, let’s hope the Conservative Party aren’t as quick to call time on the Protocol like some of the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland wish they will.