A unilateral move by Britain on the protocol could undermine the peace process, Coveney warns


Ripping up the Northern Ireland Protocol could undermine the peace process and make headlines around the world that the UK government is breaking laws, Ireland’s foreign secretary has warned.

Simon Coveney said there was a need to allay unionists’ concerns about post-Brexit trade deals which have created economic barriers in the Irish Sea, but stressed that a majority of voters in Northern Ireland support the protocol.

Referring to the prospect of the UK introducing national legislation to overrule the Protocol, Mr Coveney warned the Government against “unilaterally legislating the interests of any community in Northern Ireland”.

He said there would be “consequences” if the UK backed away from its protocol commitments, but insisted the EU was not about threatening potential trade wars.

He criticized what he described in London as “saber rattling” and expressed concern that senior figures in the UK government were laying the groundwork for the breach of international law.

Mr Coveney insisted that the way to resolve the issues surrounding the protocol lay in continued dialogue between the EU and the UK.

He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “What I’m seeing at the moment is a UK government making statements and briefings against the EU and creating and possibly on the verge of a lot of tension in my country, your closest neighbour Decision that could fundamentally undermine the functioning of the institutions of the Northern Ireland peace process.

Goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the UK are inspected under the protocol (Liam McBurney/PA)

(PA wire)

“Let us not forget that this is not just about unionism, of course it has to be partly about unionism, but a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voted against Brexit and would vote against Brexit again tomorrow morning if they could be made to do so would.

“A majority of people in Northern Ireland support the protocol because they see it doing a fair job of managing the disruption to Brexit in the Irish circumstances.

“There is a minority, a large minority within the unions, who are unhappy with the protocol.

“There are solutions that we can put in place that can allay these concerns and that is what we need to focus on together, as opposed to the UK Government acting alone and illegally in a way that does not reflect majority opinion in the north of Ireland and, perhaps most importantly, it sends a message to the world that this British government will override international law when it suits them.

“What is happening at the moment has forced Ireland to take a much tougher position and respond honestly to the unhelpful briefings we are receiving this week from very, very high levels of UK Government which appears to be laying the groundwork for a decision which I believe could be deeply damaging to the UK-Ireland relationship if we don’t see the point in the next few days.”

Mr Coveney said there was a “landing zone” around a possible compromise agreement that would distinguish between goods from the UK destined for use in Northern Ireland and those destined for onward transport to the EU single market.

“Some of what has been said this week by various members of the UK Cabinet is not helpful in helping us get there,” he said.

“But I hope that in the next few days there will be an opportunity to get that dialogue going again and avoid creating a lot of unnecessary tension by publishing unilateral legislation that would make headlines around the world that the UK is intentionally international breaking the law and creating enormous tensions with their closest neighbors, potentially undermining a peace process.”

The Foreign Secretary said the conflict in Ukraine made it more important for the EU and the UK to work together.

Many loyalists oppose Northern Ireland Protocol (Peter Morrison/PA)

(PA Archive)

“The EU has not threatened anything, not a trade war and nothing else,” he said.

“What the EU wants is partnership so that we can work together to resolve the remaining issues surrounding the protocol, which of course was designed to try and manage the disruption of Brexit on the island of Ireland.

“The last thing the EU wants, the last thing Ireland wants is tensions with the UK, especially given what is happening in Ukraine, Russian aggression and the need to work together internationally.

“Unfortunately, it was the briefings that came out from the UK Government this week that raised a real red flag in Dublin and in Brussels because the UK Government is now threatening to break international law to break a treaty they have signed with the EU, and which they drafted with the EU and ratified by a large majority in the House of Commons, creating potentially huge problems on the island of Ireland.”

Mr Coveney said “grandstanding” at Westminster was not how the problems of the Northern Ireland Protocol would be resolved.

“Ireland is also frustrated,” he said.

“We are now dealing with the consequences for our own country of a decision by the British people which has cost us hundreds of millions of euros and is jeopardizing the peace process and its institutions on the island of Ireland. So you know, when we focus on frustrations, we have to think beyond Westminster.

“There is no way the EU can compromise when the UK threatens unilateral action to pass national legislation to overturn international obligations under an international treaty that Britain co-authored with the EU.

“At a time when the western world needs to be united, to act together, to solve problems together, this is a problem we must solve together.

“The last thing Ireland wants, the last thing the EU needs, is tensions with a country the size and influence of the UK.

“So let’s work together over the summer to resolve these issues and get institutions up and running again in Northern Ireland.” A unilateral move by Britain on the protocol could undermine the peace process, Coveney warns

Bobby Allyn

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