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Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar outside Government Buildings in 2019

British Government is 'all take and take some more' in NI Protocol debacle - Tánaiste

Varadkar said the UK’s threats to disapply parts of the Protocol are creating an “atmosphere of distrust”.

THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT is “all take” in its approach to resolving disagreements over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the Tánaiste has said.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar described that the UK’s threats to disapply parts of the Protocol agreed with the European Union are creating an “atmosphere of distrust”.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Claire Byrne, the Tánaiste said he thinks that the British Government “expressing a willingness to breach international law and to breach a treaty” at the same time as helping Ukraine fight Russia has caused “puzzlement in European capitals”.

“I think anyone would acknowledge that the decision to impose Brexit on Northern Ireland and Scotland against their will has caused more people in Scotland and Northern Ireland to question whether they’re better off in the union,” he said.

“I think if we now had a situation whereby the British government in London tried to disapply the Protocol against the wishes of the Northern Ireland Assembly, against the wishes of the majority of people in Northern Ireland, that would cause more and more people to ask themselves in Northern Ireland whether this government actually looks out for our interests.”

The Northern Ireland Protocol has been a sticking point in post-Brexit debates and hung over the recent Stormont election, which saw the DUP reassert its stance that the Protocol is untenable.

The Protocol, agreed as part of the agreement between the EU and UK as the latter withdrew from the bloc, means that goods can continue to flow between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in line with the Good Friday Agreement.

Instead, checks are carried out between Northern Ireland and Great Britain on trade across the Irish Sea.

Unionists argue that the arrangement is isolating Northern Ireland from Britain and the British government has threatened to override parts of the deal.

Speaking this morning, Varadkar said the UK risks losing trust in any future negotiations.

“We negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the British government including a Protocol and they’re now proposing to disapply part of that unilaterally, and that does create an atmosphere of distrust,” the Tánaiste said.

“If we agree anything with them, how will we know that they will honour that agreement? And if we make any concessions, how will we know that we will get some concessions back in return?

That’s usually how negotiation works. It requires a bit of give and take. But it seems that when it comes to this British government anyway, it’s all take and then they try and take some more.

“And that’s not a good basis, unfortunately for negotiations to succeed or for a good relationship into the future.”

He said that a ‘trusted trader’ system in which goods are allowed to enter Northern Ireland from Britain without any checks if they are staying within the six counties is a possibility.

However, that would risk products entering the Republic, and therefore the EU, without going through the proper scrutiny.

Varadkar said he doubted whether Ulster farmers wanted international agricultural products coming into Northern Ireland that would compete with their own.

“Is this something that the Ulster Farmers’ Union actually wants? Is this is something that the DUP, for example, actually wants?” Varadkar asked.

“Could this be another repeat of the Brexit moment where people in Northern Ireland who supported Brexit maybe didn’t fully understand what the consequences were? I would have thought that if it is the case that those kinds of products are brought into Northern Ireland by a trusted trader system, never mind not going south, would Ulster farmers and consumers not have a difficulty with that?”

The Tánaiste said Ireland is open to discussing changes to the Protocol but that barriers on the island would be a “red line”.

“The whole point of the Protocol is to make sure that there aren’t checks north and south. Any modification, any reform of the Protocol we can discuss, but not one that would involve the single market for Ireland being different because what it does is it makes sure there’s no border between north and south,” he said.

“If you had modifications to the protocol that undermined the fundamental point of the protocol, that would be that wouldn’t be acceptable.”

The Tánaiste said he believes UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was being “expedient” in agreeing to the Protocol.

“I think he was being expedient. He had an election coming up. He wanted to win it and that meant getting a Brexit deal,” Varadkar said.

As the deal was negotiated with the EU, Johnson “went to an election and told the British people that he had an oven-ready Brexit deal and the people of Britain voted for that”.

“Now, it seems they want to depart from it.” 

He said that the EU is unlikely to impose sanctions unless the British government moves first.

“The European Union, we are the grown-ups in the room when it comes to all of this,” Varadkar said.

“We’re not going to impose sanctions or impose adverse consequences on Britain just because they’ve made a threat about something they might do.

“This wouldn’t be my call, of course, this would be a call for the European Commission, but I can’t see the European Commission responding to a mere threat with sanctions or actions,” he said.

“I think the British government would actually have to do something to merit that and hopefully we won’t come to that point. There’s plenty of space for negotiations over the next couple of weeks or months.”

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