EU remains committed to NI protocol despite ‘early difficulties’

Trade commissioner says bloc will adopt ‘calm but firm’ approach with UK

EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis: ‘It is in the strong mutual interest of the EU and UK to make our trade relationship work’. Photograph: Francisco Seco/Pool/AFP

EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis: ‘It is in the strong mutual interest of the EU and UK to make our trade relationship work’. Photograph: Francisco Seco/Pool/AFP

 

The European Union has said “early difficulties” have emerged in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol, but insisted it would adopt a “calm but firm approach” with the United Kingdom to ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland.

The protocol has been among the most divisive provisions in the Brexit withdrawal agreement to date, and is staunchly opposed by unionists. It seeks to avoid a hard border on the island via the imposition of a trade border between Britain and Northern Ireland.

EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis, speaking on Tuesday to the Institute of International & European Affairs, a Dublin-based think-tank, said Ireland had “the most at stake” in the relationship between the EU and the UK.

“We do see the emergence of some early difficulties,” he said. “Some relate to the withdrawal of the UK from the EU single market, which is an unavoidable consequence of the type of Brexit pursued by the UK government.

“Other issues relate to implementation of the agreement, including the Northern Ireland protocol. To address these issues, the EU plans to be fully solution-oriented, and engage constructively with the UK authorities, keeping a calm but firm approach.

“I would like to reiterate the EU’s commitment to making the protocol work, and I would add that doing so relies on joint action, through the joint bodies under the withdrawal agreement.

“Ongoing discussions at technical level will continue in the coming weeks. It is in the strong mutual interest of the EU and UK to make our trade relationship work.”

Message for DUP

Asked specifically what message he would give to the leadership candidates of the Democratic Unionist Party on the protocol, Mr Dombrovskis appealed for co-operation but insisted the bloc would continue to ensure there would be no hard border on the island.

“We will continue to ensure this,” he said. “Of course, it requires the joint efforts of the EU and the UK to function smoothly.”

Separately, Mr Dombrovskis said there had been a “marked improvement” in relations between the EU and the United States since Joe Biden took office as US president.

“We have mutually suspended the tariffs imposed in the Airbus-Boeing dispute in order to seek a negotiated solution,” he said. “We have welcomed the US rejoining the Paris climate agreement.”