Fears that the UK government is out to “dismantle” the Northern Ireland protocol have been sounded following comments published in the Irish Times on Saturday.
Speaking to RTÉ, Simon Coveney said that the European Union is growing increasingly worried about Britain’s position after reading what Brexit minister David Frost and Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis had to say.
He said: “Many in the EU are interpreting the UK’s response as essentially saying: ‘Look, concessions don’t matter. What is required now is to dismantle elements of the protocol piece by piece.
“That is going to cause huge problems.”
EU ‘only side showing flexibility’
The government’s inflammatory remarks come just days after the EU accepted Frost’s request on behalf of the UK. The Brexit minister had asked for a three-month “grace period” before a ban on chilled meat exports to Northern Ireland.
Frost’s latest remarks have thus been slammed by Coveney as “a very strange way to make friends and build partnerships”.
In the article, Frost and Lewis wrote: “The current process to resolve all these difficulties is not working and risks creating a series of rolling crises as we lurch from one deadline to another.
“Wednesday’s agreement to extend by three months the right to circulate British sausages and chilled meats in Northern Ireland is welcome, but addresses only a small part of the underlying problem.”
Coveney said statements made in the article are “essentially blaming the EU for not being able to implement the protocol”.
He added: “The truth here is the only side that has shown flexibility has been the EU. The challenge here is that both sides have to take responsibility and ownership.
Peace in Northern Ireland
Coveney suggested the UK government’s rhetoric is threatening peace in Northern Ireland through saying the protocol is unsustainable, and urged the UK to work “in partnership” with the EU.
In the article he criticises, ministers reference ‘growing opposition’ to the protocol. A UK government spokesperson told The Guardian: “This is not about concessions. It is about finding sustainable arrangements for Northern Ireland and protecting the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement in all its dimensions.
“The UK government has provided nearly £500m this year to support businesses moving goods under the protocol and we are committed to working consensually with the EU to resolve the issues which are causing significant disruption on the ground.
“We will consider all options available if solutions cannot be found, because our overriding responsibility is to support peace, prosperity and stability in Northern Ireland.”
It was only last month that Frost said Brexiteers have been taken aback by decaying relationships with the European Union, whilst awaiting the “sausage war concession” made by the bloc meanwhile.
But earlier this year, The London Economic revealed Northern Ireland’s justice minister Naomi Long and Irish MEP Barry Andrews were not pleased about Boris Johnson’s handling of Brexit.