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New law to override NI Protocol will represent a new low in British-Irish relations - Coveney

Minister Simon Coveney has urged the UK Government to step back from its plan to publish domestic legislation.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER Simon Coveney has warned that the European Union’s position on the Northern Ireland Protocol has “hardened” in the face of the UK threat to unilaterally scrap part of the arrangements.

Speaking on his way into Cabinet, Coveney urged the UK Government to step back from its plan to publish domestic legislation that would override elements of the protocol, which governs trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

“Publishing this legislation will cause a lot more problems than it solves, not just between Britain and Ireland but between the UK and the EU more generally,” Coveney told reporters.

“In many ways from my experience, and I’ve been to Finland to Sweden to Estonia to Latvia, and I’ve been speaking to many other EU foreign ministers, in many ways in the last number of weeks the EU position has hardened because I don’t think there’s a single capital across the EU and anybody in the European Commission that believes, at the moment anyway, that the British government is serious about a negotiated solution, because there is no signal coming from London that they are.

“Instead all of the signals are about unilateral action, making demands with no willingness to compromise, and that has hardened the EU response to what they’re seeing coming out of London now.

‘Rot in relationships’

“So, we need to find a way to arrest this rot in relationships and instead to look to compromise, to negotiation, to dialogue, to solve what are genuine issues and concerns,” he said.

Coveney said it appeared that the UK Government was unsure over what to include in its controversial Bill on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“It seems to us that the British government has been somewhat unsure as to what to put in the legislation because there are different reports coming out of London in terms of what the legislation will look like, what the approach will be,” he said.

“There were attempts, certainly, we think to harden up some of the language in the proposed legislation this week, which now seems to have been reversed again – we simply don’t know.

“We’ll have to wait and see. But, of course, our real message is ‘please don’t go there’.”
Mr Coveney said the last thing Ireland and the EU wanted was “tension and unnecessary rancor” in their relationship with the UK at a time when the focus should be on working together on issues such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

‘Historic low point’

Coveney echoed comments made by Taoiseach Micheál Martin earlier this week when he warned that publication of the legislation would mark a “historic low point” in Anglo-Irish relations.

“I just want to reinforce what the Taoiseach said this week when he said that should that legislation be published it really will represent a new low in British-Irish relations since the Good Friday Agreement was signed,” he said.

“My message to the British government is a very clear one, which is that if you are genuinely interested in negotiated solutions to these problems, and there are problems in terms of the protocol and its implementation, well then let’s see some evidence as to a willingness to negotiate seriously those solutions through compromise, through flexibility.

“The European Commission has shown that willingness, and wants to do more in my view, but it needs and wants a partner to do that. The answer here is not unilateral action, passing domestic legislation to set aside international law and to break commitments that were freely entered into in an international treaty.

“The answer here is to act as a partner and a neighbour to work these issues out together to respond to genuine unionist concerns in Northern Ireland, and we do want to respond to those.

“I believe that both the European Commission and certainly the Irish government is up for it – we cannot do it unless the British government can give us a signal that they’re serious about that discussion, that negotiation, to try and find common ground,” said Coveney.

The Government is “confident” that plans to unilaterally override elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol are legal, a minister has said.

The UK’s Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly told the Commons that the Government is confident that its actions are lawful under international law and in line with longstanding convention “that we do not set out internal legal deliberations”.

Cleverly was responding to an urgent question about whether the Government had consulted a senior legal adviser, the First Treasury Counsel, on the proposals.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected the claim that the independent barrister on major legal issues had not been asked to give a view on the plans at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Keir Starmer visit 

Coveney’s warning comes as Labour leader Keir Starmer meets with Irish political leaders in Dublin today.

His first visit to Ireland while at the helm of the Opposition comes as the UK Government proposes controversial legislation to override the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Labour leader will meet with President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Micheal Martin follow discussions with the British-Irish Chamber in Dublin.

Keir will also visit Belfast as part of the trip, will also meet with Coveney and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

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