British stance on food and animal standards may be hardening – Coveney

‘Not helpful’ that British taking ‘more robust stand’ on Northern Ireland protocol issues

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney in Brussels on Monday. Photograph: John Thys/AFP via Getty

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney in Brussels on Monday. Photograph: John Thys/AFP via Getty

 

It is not clear that the UK government will agree to a deal on food, plant and animal standards that would make checks on goods travelling to Northern Ireland unnecessary, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

“It’s difficult to be confident on that,” Mr Coveney said in Brussels, adding that there were signals that London’s position could harden before Westminster breaks up for the summer.

Saying that he did not think it “helpful” that the British had been setting the stage for a “much more robust” stand, he said the reply by London to previous EU offers “was certainly not a generous one”.

An agreement to keep British food, plant and animal standards at the same level as the EU has been proposed as a way to ease the Northern Ireland protocol’s application by the European Commission, which says it would get rid of 80 per cent of checks.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is due to speak with prime minister Boris Johnson in coming days and he will hopefully be briefed on the UK government’s plans, said Mr Coveney.

“I would strongly encourage the UK government not to take unilateral action and instead to work with the European Commission,” Mr Coveney said, adding that businesses needed predictability.

‘Blunt’ meeting

Separately, EU foreign ministers lunched with Israel’s new foreign minister, Yair Lapid, who was visiting Brussels in a bid to smooth relations with the bloc left strained during Binyamin Netanyahu’s premiership.

“It was a blunt and direct discussion, certainly from an Irish perspective,” Mr Coveney said. Ireland wants a close relationship with Israel, he added, but it must be “honest” about its concerns about Israeli policy towards Palestinians.

Real progress will be difficult to make “ until settlement expansion stops, until demolitions in the Occupied Territories stop, until forced evictions stop”, the Minister told his Israeli counterpart.