LONDON and DUBLIN – Britain has accused the EU of failing to show “flexibility” in a post-Brexit row over trade rules in Northern Ireland – as Brussels warned London that taking unilateral action risked the region’s access to the EU single market.
European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss spoke by phone on Thursday as the UK mulls a national law allowing it to ignore parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol , a key part of the Brexit deal that has international treaty status.
London argued the deal was causing unnecessary trade disruption and political instability in Northern Ireland.
But Šefčovič warned in a statement following the appeal that unilateral action against the protocol would not only destroy trust between the EU and the UK and damage stability in Northern Ireland, but would also “undermine the conditions which are essential for Northern Ireland to continue to have access to the EU’s single market for goods.
“I am convinced that only common solutions will work,” he said. “Unilateral action, which does not effectively enforce an international agreement such as the Protocol, is simply not acceptable.”
Šefčovič told his British counterpart that “there is still potential to be explored” in the EU proposals, and that Brussels is still waiting for a response from the United Kingdom to its plan for intensive talks proposed to the British government in February .
Meanwhile, Truss expressed “regret” at the EU’s stance, according to a reading of the UK government, which said Brussels was unwilling to expand Šefčovič’s negotiating mandate or consider new ones. alternatives.
She warned that the situation in Northern Ireland “is a matter of internal peace and security for the UK, and if the EU does not show the flexibility required to help resolve these issues, then as as responsible government, we would have no choice but to act.”
Britain and the EU have engaged in talks on how the Northern Ireland Protocol will work since Britain left the bloc.
The arrangements are designed to prevent a politically sensitive hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in a way that causes minimal disruption to businesses shipping goods to the area from the rest of the UK. But Northern Ireland’s main Unionist party refuses to form a regional executive unless the protocol is scrapped, arguing the setup creates an unnecessary wedge between the region and the rest of the UK
Truss argued that the protocol had become “the biggest obstacle” to forming a new executive in Northern Ireland, following last week’s election.
“The EU is ready to go further”
In Dublin, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney dismissed Truss’ claims of EU inflexibility as fiction. He underlined the comprehensive nature of EU plans to reform the operation of the protocol published in October and Sefcovic’s emphasis since then that these proposals should represent a starting point for negotiation, not a conclusion. definitive.
“The EU is ready to go further,” Coveney told RTÉ radio.
The October plans were not the European Commission’s “last call”, Coveney said. “They could potentially go above and beyond if the UK government worked with them in partnership. British government rhetoric in recent days portrays the EU as an inflexible body, with no mandate for change, compromise or flexibility. This does not reflect reality.
Coveney said EU countries all want a compromise with the UK which requires far fewer EU checks on UK goods staying in Northern Ireland, compared to goods crossing the border into the Republic of Ireland. Ireland and the wider European market.
“But we’re not going to do it under threat of UK government language and media briefing that says: if the EU doesn’t give us everything we want, well we’re going to legislate ourselves to override international law. “. ,” he said.
Šefčovič is expected to deliver a speech later Thursday at the first meeting of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly in Brussels.
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