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Coveney says British 'sabre-rattling and grandstanding' over NI Protocol is not helpful

The Foreign Affairs Minister said Ireland is “frustrated” and “dealing with the consequences now of a decision by the British people on our own country”.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney
Image: PA Images

Updated May 15th 2022, 11:45 AM

FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER Simon Coveney has said the “sabre-rattling and grandstanding in Westminster” is unhelpful as the EU and UK engage in talks about the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking to Sophy Ridge on Sky News today, Coveney said there would be a “consequence” if the UK walked away from its protocol commitments, but he insisted the EU did not want to issue threats about potential trade wars.

Commenting on the prospect of the UK introducing domestic laws to override the protocol, Coveney warned the British Government against “legislating unilaterally for the concerns of one community in Northern Ireland”.

During the interview Coveney said people in Ireland are frustrated by recent developments.

“I’ve been in these discussions for more than five years now. I have been in negotiations with, I think, four or five different Brexit ministers on behalf of the British Government.

“Let me tell you Ireland is also frustrated. We are dealing with the consequences now of a decision by the British people on our own country that has cost us hundreds of millions of euros, that is risking peace process and its institutions on the island of Ireland.”

Coveney said he understand “the frustrations in the Unionist community” in relation to the protocol.

“I’ve spoken to many Unionists who wants to see pragmatism and real flexibility so that trade within the United Kingdom – in other words, trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – is not disrupted in any way that is not absolutely necessary.

“And we can get there to a landing zone if we work in partnership. But you know, sabre-rattling and grandstanding in Westminster, ratcheting up tension, is not the way to do it.”

Coveney said he has offered to meet British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to discuss the issue in a bid to make progress.

“This is a problem we need to solve together. The last thing Ireland wants, the last thing the EU needs, is tension with a country the size and the influence of the United Kingdom.”

Coveney also said there is “an impression often across the United Kingdom, that Northern Ireland is deeply unhappy with the protocol, and that a majority of people want it changed”.

That is simply not true. The majority of people in Northern Ireland have just voted for candidates that actually are in favour of the protocol because of how it manages the disruption of Brexit. Fifty-three out of the 90 MLAs that were elected in Northern Ireland would vote in favour of the protocol tomorrow if asked to do so.

“What they want though is pragmatism and flexibility in terms of how it’s implemented. That’s what the EU wants to offer. That’s what Dublin wants to help facilitate. And I hope that’s what the British Government will work with us on in the weeks ahead,” he stated.

Johnson to visit Stormont

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tomorrow urge Northern Ireland’s politicians to get power-sharing back up and running as the Government seeks to resolve the deadlock with Brussels over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

2.66805388 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson Source: PA Images

Johnson will travel to Belfast on Monday for crisis talks after the DUP blocked the election of a Speaker at the Stormont Assembly, preventing it from sitting, due to their concerns about the protocol.

Government sources said Johnson will use a series of private meetings to deliver a “tough message” that any “fix” to the protocol must involve the parties coming together to form an Executive and Assembly.

He is expected to say that while the UK Government will “play its part to ensure political stability”, politicians must “get back to work” so they can deliver on “bread and butter issues” for the voters.

Ahead of his visit, however, Sinn Féin – which is now the biggest party in the Assembly following the elections on 5 May – accused the Johnson of being “in cahoots” with DUP and supporting its “blocking tactics”.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald yesterday said: “It is very dangerous, it’s reckless, it’s a game of brinkmanship, very cynically carried out by a Tory government in London that has no care for the island of Ireland, north or south.”

DUP

The DUP is bitterly opposed to the protocol as it requires checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, in order to keep the border with Republic open in line with the Good Friday Agreement.

UK ministers have repeatedly said they will act unilaterally if an agreement cannot be found to reduce the impact of the checks, which have been blamed for hitting businesses and fuelling community tensions.

Before travelling to Northern Ireland, Johnson is today attending the funeral in Abu Dhabi of the president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

In his talks the party leaders, Johnson is expected to say that while the UK Government “will always keep the door open to genuine dialogue”, there will be “a necessity to act” to protect the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) if there is no change in the EU position.

He will insist the Government has never suggested scrapping the protocol and will acknowledge there will always have to be a treaty governing the UK’s relationship with the EU in respect of Northern Ireland in order to prevent the return of a hard border with the Republic.

However he will say the “delicate balance” of the GFA has been upset, eroding the historic economic bonds linking Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, leaving the unionist community feeling that its aspirations and identity were under threat.

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‘Going nowhere’

But speaking on Saturday following a meeting of Sinn Fein’s ruling council in Dublin, McDonald said the UK Government had consistently failed to act in “good faith”.

“Let’s just be clear that the protocol is going nowhere. The protocol is a necessary outworking of Brexit for which the Tory party and the DUP campaigned,” she said.

“The British Government cannot use Ireland as a pawn, we won’t be the collateral damage in the Brexit negotiations.

“It is very clear that the Tory Government in London is in cahoots with the DUP to stall and to hold back progress, to frustrate the will of the people as expressed in the election and that, to anybody who calls themselves a democrat, is clearly unacceptable and clearly shameful.”

Contains reporting from PA

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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