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Britain must 'step back from brink': EU condemns UK's Protocol Bill

The Westminster legislation would allow customs checks between Northern Ireland and Britain to be scrapped.

THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT must “step back from the brink” and cease its efforts to counter the Northern Ireland Protocol, the European Parliament heard this afternoon.

Politicians in Brussels condemned the UK’s Protocol Bill, a piece of legislation that would override parts of the Protocol to scrap customs checks between Northern Ireland and Britain. 

Irish MEPs were among many to speak out against the UK’s actions in the Parliament today, with Fine Gael’s Frances Fitzgerald warning the British government that it was time for it to “step back from the brink” and reengage with the EU.

As Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes heat from within his own party amid a series of high-profile resignations, the EU Parliament discussed support for Ireland and the possible consequences for the UK if it does not stand down on the bill.

Maroš Šefčovič, an EU Commissioner and Brexit negotiator, said that the “door remains open” for talks but that the UK must show “political will” to engage with the EU.

But if the bill is adopted, “of course, in that case, we will be forced to use the measures at our disposal”.

Last week, MPs in Westminster voted 295 to 221 to give the Bill a second reading, clearing the way for it to undergo further scrutiny and progress through the legislative process.

Speaking in Brussels this afternoon, Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus said that the “British government are not only attacking the protocol, they are attacking the Good Friday Agreement. They must not succeed.”

“Britain is fast becoming a rogue state, acting unilaterally in the interests of its own elite with no regard for the wellbeing of its people or the international rules-based order.”

He said that “unless Britain return to legality, it deserves to fail”.

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Andrews said that “in the UK, the stigma against breaking international law, domestic law and constitutional norms has been significantly eroded since Boris Johnson became prime minister”.

“Events in the last 24 hours demonstrate that for many, enough is enough,” he said.

His party colleague Billy Kelleher added that the EU must “ensure that Northern Ireland is not punished, is not suffering, by leaving the EU against the majority of the people of Northern Ireland”.

“In my lifetime, and I’m 54 years of age, I saw some harrowing events on my island and most importantly the Protocol understands that and tries to address it to ensure there is no hard border on the island,” Kelleher said.

“What we need now to do is to ask the British government to come back into the tent and sit down and negotiate in good faith under the basic principles of the withdrawal agreement, the Northern Ireland Protocol, but more important, for peace and stability on the island of Ireland.”

Speaking in Irish, Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe said that the current events in UK politics “indicate that the people in Britain have lost confidence in their government”.

“Northern Ireland deserves better than that,” he said.

He said the Bill “endangers peace in Northern Ireland and Ireland”.

“In this difficult period we need to listen to the people of Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland need to be able to decide their own future and the parliament needs to support that.”

And Fine Gael’s Seán Kelly said the Bill “marks a new low for relations between the EU and UK.

He appealed to Johnson and the British government to end what he called a “‘Fawlty Towers’-like approach to politics, because if they don’t, there is a danger that Basil will be confused with Boris”.

“Regardless of the volatile situation in Number 10, there’s only one solution – put this bill aside, come and negotiate, and we can reach an agreement.”

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