The prime minister has rejected the European Union’s attempt to solve the issues arising from the post-Brexit agreement made by the UK government itself on Northern Ireland.
Boris Johnson insisted the Withdrawal Agreement signed last year must be renegotiated, blaming Brussels for ‘insufficient’ solutions after the European Commission published on Monday proposals believed to make the Northern Ireland protocol easier to implement.
A UK government spokesperson told The Guardian that both the UK and the EU need to agree on “durable solutions”, and Brexit minister David Frost called for legal text changes to the protocol – or else the UK would seek to suspend parts of the deal, he threatened.
Protocol ‘not written in stone’
It comes after business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the Northern Ireland protocol “isn’t written in stone” and it is “not something that was going to last forevermore” last week.
Despite a host of warnings about how the protocol would impact the country, Kwarteng insisted “nobody could guarantee what would happen until it actually happened that we’ve left the EU.”
Kwarteng suggested that the EU “is a bit inflexible” on the protocol – and claimed the government wants to see if they can “make it work more smoothly”.
He added: “A deal is a deal but it wasn’t something that was going to last forever.
“You’ll remember two years ago people said we were never going to get a deal from the EU but we did so. When people say they’re not going to look at the protocol again, I say ‘well, let’s just see’.”
Engage with the UK government
Following the comments a government spokesperson told The Guardian that recent “political instability and violence in Northern Ireland” could only be solved if the EU ‘engages with the UK government’.
One particular sticking point has been EU proposals on the flow of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and the movement of guide dogs and cattle.
This is despite the fact that the EU has already given the UK grace periods.
The European Commission said it will not rewrite the legal text agreed with Johnson two years ago.
Frost insisted on his honesty in wanting the protocol to be successful.
‘Get Brexit Done’
The command paper released last week suggested the government agreed to sign the protocol last year following political pressures in 2019.
Meanwhile, Kwarteng suggested that the EU “is a bit inflexible” on the protocol – and claimed the government wants to see if they can “make it work more smoothly”.
He added: “A deal is a deal but it wasn’t something that was going to last forever.”
European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic flatly rejected the UK’s call for a renegotiaton.
“We will continue to engage with the UK, also on the suggestions made today,” he said. “We are ready to continue to seek creative solutions, within the framework of the protocol, in the interest of all communities in Northern Ireland. However, we will not agree to a renegotiation of the protocol.”
In April this year, EU officials voiced their concerns that the UK would not respect post-Brexit agreements.
Austrian MEP Andreas Schieder, rapporteur for the Committee on Foreign Affairs, told a meeting: “Only a partnership in which both sides stick to their commitments has a future”.
The European Parliament had condemned the UK’s “unilateral actions”, which they said were “in breach of the Withdrawal Agreement”.
In April, MEPs also called on the UK government to “act in good faith and fully implement the terms of the agreements which it has signed’ – including the protocol.