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Taoiseach Micheál Martin PA

Taoiseach warns of ‘serious situation’ if UK scraps Northern Ireland Protocol

It comes as the UK tables legislation that aims to override significant parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

LAST UPDATE | 19 Jun 2022

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has warned it would be a “very serious situation” if the UK Government enacted legislation to scrap the bulk of Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

An Taoiseach said the legislation will cause “economic vandalism” on Northern Ireland.

Martin also said the European Union wants to avoid a trade war, saying the issues around the protocol can be resolved through negotiation.

It comes shortly after the UK tabled legislation to give ministers powers to override elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was jointly agreed by the UK and EU as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to keep the Irish land border free-flowing.

“If this Bill is enacted, I think we’re into a very serious situation. But of course, no-one in Northern Ireland and no-one in the island of Ireland wants Northern Ireland to lose access to the EU market,” Martin told BBC’s Sunday Morning programme,

“I think that’s one consistent thread. I think if if we have a complete unilateral reneging on an international agreement, that the United Kingdom Government itself signed up to, then of course we’re in a very serious situation.

“But we want to avoid that, nobody wants a trade war in any shape or form.

We want this resolved. We believe it can be resolved with goodwill. I’ve met all of the political parties in Northern Ireland. I’ve met with industry in Northern Ireland, we believe we know where there’s a landing zone to resolve issues around the operation of the protocol to give Northern Ireland the best chance in terms of access to the European Union Market and the UK market.

“That would position Northern Ireland well in terms of inward investment.”

In the deal, both sides agreed to put checks on goods, plant and animal products crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The UK has insisted its unilateral approach is the only option left to resolve the issues within the protocol if the EU refuses to fundamentally rewrite the terms of the deal.

However, Martin said the legislation to undermine almost all aspects of the protocol is not acceptable.

“It represents unilateralism of the worst kind in terms of honouring and adhering to international agreements that governments adhere to and sign up to and ratify in their parliaments,” Martin added.

EU legislation to retaliate

Meanwhile, the EU has drafted legislation that aims to strengthen the bloc’s hand in taking action against the UK over possible breaches of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and EU-UK trade deal due to the Protocol legislation.

Fine Gael MEP for Ireland South Seán Kelly has been appointed lead author in finalising the draft legislation, which looks at the measures contained in the post-Brexit trade deal on what retaliatory action can be taken if one side does not adhere to its obligations.

featureimage Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly speaks at an EP plenary session EP / PA EP / PA / PA

“So basically, we will put on the table the steps that will be taken if they continue down this path, and giving the opportunity to the Commission on how to do it,” he told the PA news agency.

“They will see that there’s no messing here, we’re not bluffing, that once you cross the rubicon, there are consequences.”

Kelly said the UK under Boris Johnson has become “an unreliable diplomatic partner”, and that the EU needs the appropriate tools to protect itself.

“The UK is not coming to the table and they’re playing games for political reasons.

They’re pretending they can solve everything and it’s no big deal, and they can break international law and it’s no big deal, and they can ignore the result of the Northern Ireland Assembly elections where a majority were in favour of the protocol and it’s no big deal.

“I would hope and I almost believe that the UK would pull back from the brink.”

He said that negotiations about red and green lanes would follow if the UK did pull back from tabling legislation that seeks to change the Northern Ireland Protocol.

When asked whether the EU expected this unilateral response from the UK after years of fraught Brexit negotiations, Kelly said: “You were kind of… but you were thinking that it was a bit too extreme for a responsible government to break its own word.”

“‘Take back control’ was a wonderful phrase that meant nothing,” Kelly added.

The draft regulation establishes rules and procedures to govern the EU rights under both Brexit agreements, which if triggered if may result in the suspension of certain obligations under the agreement concerned.

“If there are breaches to the agreed trading conditions, with this regulation the Commission will have the power to impose restrictions on trade, investment or other activities falling within the scope of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.”

“The bill in the House of Commons has to go through two or three hearings and they could take ages, so we’ll be finalised in plenty of time if the doomsday scenario transpires, and they’ll know where we stand.”

The European Council and European Parliament would then have to approve the actions that are to be taken.

Kelly said that this would prevent a further “gaffe” when the European Commission controversially suggested in early 2021 that Article 16 of the Protocol could be triggered in response to a row with the UK about Covid-19 vaccine supplies.

“So that won’t happen on this occasion, everything will be above board, according to the treaties,” he said.

When the draft legislation is finalised in the coming weeks, the European Parliament’s report on the new regulation will be presented for vote at committee before progressing to a full plenary vote.

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