Government expresses concern over UK hostile tone to NI protocol
The government is concerned about the British government’s increasingly hostile tone to the Northern Ireland protocol, according to RTÉ News.
It follows Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Checkers on Friday, as well as an article published yesterday by David Frost, Britain’s chief minister on protocol, in which he reiterated his point of view that the protocol in its current form was not sustainable.
Dublin is now concerned that London will push for a complete rewrite of the protocol, beyond simply implementing flexibilities through ongoing technical discussions with the European Commission.
A high-level Irish source also called “irresponsible” the suggestion, as the UK government has informed, that the EU should provide a solution to the issues surrounding the backstop before July 12, the peak of the crisis. season of loyalist marches.
Last week, Mr. Frost met with a delegation from the Council of Loyalist Communities, which includes members of loyalist paramilitary groups. Subsequently, he said the Protocol “may not be sustainable” in its current form.
In the Sunday Mail yesterday, Mr Frost accused the EU of having a “purist” view of the protocol and that the UK “did not foresee this when we approved the protocol and it has no effect. meaning”.
He said consent for the protocol was “fragile” and recalled the recent riots in Belfast and elsewhere. “Protests have taken place and political stability is in danger,” he wrote.
“The EU has a responsibility here. The protocol is a common agreement between the UK and the EU. The EU needs, quickly, to find a new approach and new solutions.”
However, the government is concerned that Frost is raising expectations, as unionism evolves into a tougher stance, that the protocol will be scrapped.
“The risk is that they are aiming for a result which is not achievable,” said a government source.
Officials say they have taken note of new indications that the UK government may take further unilateral action on the protocol, or even trigger Article 16, which gives a party to the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement the ability to suspend some of the its elements for a short time.
The government now believes, following Friday’s Checkers meeting, that London is changing its rhetoric to say that while the protocol somehow makes Northern Ireland different from the rest of the UK, it violates the Good Friday agreement.
“The argument [at the meeting] was that the Protocol does not have community support in Northern Ireland, so it does not protect the Good Friday Agreement, ”said a source.
“The community that doesn’t like it just wants it to go away because it treats Northern Ireland differently from Britain. That was the argument. It’s a big step forward, to resume. Boris Johnson’s phrase, which he repeated, about ‘sanding down’ the Protocol. It was clear he was talking about some degree of change to this one. “
The Northern Ireland Protocol was approved by the British government and the European Union as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in October 2019.
It is designed to avoid a rigid border on the island of Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, but it does require checks and controls to be carried out on goods entering Ireland of the North from Great Britain, in particular on food and vegetable products.
The two sides agreed last December on a series of grace periods and easements, relating to food controls, on how the Protocol – which entered into force on January 1 – would be implemented.
Another grace period was agreed for how drugs entering Northern Ireland from Britain would be handled.
In March, the UK unilaterally extended one of the grace periods and put in place its own exemptions for traders. The European Commission filed a lawsuit against the UK on March 15, and it is understood that London gave its formal response to the lawsuit on Friday.
EU and UK officials have been engaged in detailed technical talks for several months, seeking other ways to relax the protocol.
The EU has suggested that the UK government temporarily align itself – perhaps for several years – with EU food safety and animal health rules to avoid up to 80% of the checks required in the EU. the ports of Northern Ireland.
However, the UK flatly refused. London is seeking a risk-based approach to problems, in which food categories are assessed for the risk they may pose to the EU’s single market and consumer safety.
The EU considers the risk-based approach incompatible with the food safety and animal health rules to which 27 Member States are bound and runs counter to the “precautionary principle” underlying the safety regime food from the EU.
London is also pushing for an “equivalency” agreement, similar to the one in force between the EU and New Zealand, in which the EU recognizes New Zealand’s food security regime in ways that reduce – but no to eliminate – some of the controls on imports.
The EU argued that the volumes of food shipped from Britain to Northern Ireland are of a different order of magnitude and diversity compared to shipments from New Zealand to the EU.
The Irish government believes the latest hardening of the UK’s stance will now inevitably be addressed by EU leaders when they meet for an informal two-day summit in Brussels next week.