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The protocol

Coveney unsure if UK government interested in working to overcome Northern Ireland problems

The foreign affairs minister said the working relationship Ireland and the UK have enjoyed in the past is currently “absent”.

LAST UPDATE | 11 May 2022

FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER Simon Coveney has said he does not know if the UK government is interested in working in partnership to resolve problems in Northern Ireland.

Coveney said the working relationship Ireland and the UK have enjoyed in the past is currently “absent” and he does not know if Boris Johnson’s government is interested in finding solutions to political issues, such as the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“We’d like partnership in terms of working out a way forward on how we deal with the legacy of the past because the British government is moving away from their commitments in Stormont House,” Coveney told RTÉ News.

“We’d like partnership on trying to resolve the outstanding issues on the Protocol and we’re hearing the British government talking about unilateral action and British legislation to override international law.

“So you know, the signals are conflicting. What we want is partnership, friendship and how neighbours should behave with each other, to rebuild trust and try and solve some of these problems together.”

The foreign affairs minister added that the matter of the Protocol is complicated by the fact that the European Commission is central to many of the solutions that need to be found.

“But that means the partnership between the British and Irish governments needs to be even closer in my view. So that’s our ask, you know, let’s talk. Let’s try to find a way forward,” Coveney said.

‘Frank and honest’

At a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting this evening, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he has spoken to the leaders of each of the political parties and Prime Minister Johnson in the aftermath of the elections in Northern Ireland this week.

“With Prime Minister Johnson we had a frank and honest discussion on the blockages to progress and I reiterated my view that what is needed is proper and professional intensification of EU-Uk discussions regarding the implementation of the protocol,” Martin said.

“I set out in very clear terms my serious concerns about any unilateral action at this time. I shared my view that this would be the wrong approach. It would be destabilising to Northern Ireland and would further erode trust.

“Both governments have a joint responsibility to safeguard and implement the good Friday agreement. There is no place for unilateralism in this role. Progress on Northern Ireland can be achieved only when the UK and the Irish governments work together in common cause.

“I challenged and continue to challenge the false narrative that the EU Commission is being inflexible on the Protocol. This is simply untrue and must be challenged at every opportunity,” the Taoiseach said.

‘We need to sort it out’

The comments come after UK prime minister Johnson reiterated his threat to override elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol, warning the European Union that the Good Friday Agreement is more important than the post-Brexit deal.

prime-minister-boris-johnson-arrives-at-stockholm-airport-in-sweden-where-he-is-due-to-meet-swedish-prime-minister-magdalena-andersson-following-the-visit-the-prime-minister-is-scheduled-to-travel-t Boris Johnson arrives at Stockholm airport ahead of a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Speaking today Johnson told the European Union there is no need for “drama” as he doubled down on hints he could override elements of his post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland.

The UK Prime Minister said that the Good Friday Agreement is more important than the Northern Ireland Protocol, as he dismissed suggestions of any possible escalatory response from the EU as “crazy”.

He said the protocol fails to command support from unionists in the region, adding “we need to sort it out”, despite warnings from Joe Biden’s White House and European leaders not to single-handedly meddle with the agreement he brokered.

Earlier, Johnson said that the Protocol fails to command cross-community support in the region, adding “we need to sort it out”, despite warnings from European leaders not to meddle with the agreement he brokered.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is set to tell the EU that the dispute over Northern Ireland cannot drag on, after warning she will “not shy away” from taking action as she accused the EU of proposing solutions that would “take us backwards”.

As ministers consider whether to introduce legislation overriding parts of the deal, senior Cabinet member Michael Gove warned “no option is off the table”.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has stressed “no-one should unilaterally cancel, break or in any way attack the settlement”.

At a press conference in Sweden, Johnson faced questions over whether now is the right time to pick a fight with the EU against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The most important agreement is the 25-year-old Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” the Prime Minister said.

“That is crucial for the stability of our country of the UK, of Northern Ireland. And it’s got to be that means that things have got to command across community support.

Plainly the Northern Ireland Protocol fails to do that and we need to sort it out.

Truss is expected to reiterate in a call with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic tomorrow the risk to the Good Friday Agreement and warn that the situation cannot drag on.

Downing Street backed Truss in claiming that some EU proposals are “a backwards step”, but declined to say whether preparations have been made for a possible trade war with the bloc.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We want nothing but good relations with our EU partners, but I’m not going to get into speculation about what might happen down the line.”

He said “some relatively minor concessions” from the EU in the past “show that, where there was willing, change could be achieved”.

Asked if the Government is drawing up controversial new legislation, the spokesman said: “I wouldn’t get into, on any issue, the ins and outs of policy development.

“This is something we’re looking at closely, it’s a serious issue, all options are on the table.”

Officials working for Truss are drawing up draft legislation to unilaterally remove the need for checks on all goods being sent from Britain for use in Northern Ireland.

The PA news agency was told that Truss is poised to take further action in the coming weeks if negotiations with the EU continue to stall.

The proposed law would allow businesses in Northern Ireland to disregard EU rules and regulations and remove the power of the European Court of Justice to rule on issues relating to the region.

Crucially, it would in parts override the Protocol agreed by Johnson in 2019 and mean the UK had breached its obligations under the Brexit agreement.

But it has been argued that the Protocol will not be completely overridden, with measures instead being considered to ease the issues on the ground in Northern Ireland.

Additional reporting from Press Association and Christina Finn

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