Refrigerators, televisions and other white goods sold in Northern Ireland must display the EU flag on post-Brexit energy efficiency labels, despite them bearing the British flag in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Union flag is not allowed on the EU-wide label, which Northern Ireland has already introduced because it must follow some Brussels regulations under the Withdrawal Agreement, which prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Sammy Wilson, the DUP’s Brexit spokesman, told The Daily Telegraph it was an example of how the Northern Ireland Protocol was detaching the country from the rest of the UK.
“The very fact it will be an EU flag, although we’ve supposedly left the EU…is an illustration of how we’re now treated differently,” he said.
The Government announced new energy efficiency legislation on Thursday with a new A-G scale, that mirrors the system that entered into force in the EU last week.
The UK labels, which must be displayed on goods in stores are identical to the EU labels in every respect, except that they replace the EU flag in the top left hand corner with a British one.
In Northern Ireland, the EU flag remains because the country must follow Brussels’ energy labelling rules. This prevents the needs for customs checks on the Irish border with EU member Ireland.
The Protocol sets out a number of EU laws on goods, food and animal health that Northern Ireland must implement because it is now part of the bloc’s customs territory.
The UK infuriated Brussels by unilaterally announcing extension on grace periods in the Protocol on food checks, which the European Commission believes violates the agreement. Brussels is preparing legal action against Britain in retaliation.
Mr Wilson said, “What we need to do is ensure that EU legislation no longer applies to Northern Ireland, except where we are exporting goods to the EU and we have to abide by their regulations, just as we have to with the US.”
He added that recent changes made by the Treasury meant recreational boat owners will no longer be able to use red diesel – which is cheaper – for their pleasure craft when sailing in the province.
In Scotland, Wales or England, boat owners will still be able to take advantage of the cheaper fuel requirement because they are not tied into the EU’s rules.
“Why are we going to finish up with a situation where everyone who buys a washing machine or a fridge will now find themselves buying something which is designed to meet the EU requirements, rather than the UK’s regulations,” Mr Wilson said.
A UK Government spokesperson confirmed that Northern Ireland would follow the EU rules and said the Protocol was agreed as a “unique solution” to uphold the Good Friday Agreement and safeguard the country’s “integral place” in the UK.
A European Commission spokesperson said the rules were necessary to protect “the integrity of the EU’s Single Market for goods.”
“The precise design of the label in this specific situation is part of the detailed labelling rules laid down in EU regulations […]The EU flag does not identify the origin of the product or the manufacturer: it identifies compliance with EU rules and, hence, also the space where this product can be freely circulated.”
The legislation announced yesterday also includes rules on the “right to repair”, which will mean manufacturers must provide spare parts for up to 10 years, provide repair manuals and make goods easy to dissemble and recycle.
The new British rules are the same as existing EU laws, meaning that suppliers in Great Britain will be able to supply Northern Irish retailers with products matching EU standards.
Had they diverged from Brussels regulations, Northern Ireland shop owners would have been forced to source EU approved appliances and pass on the additional cost to consumers.