EU has ‘no interest’ in imposing checks on Irish goods bound for continent

Mairead McGuinness warns against further UK ‘unilateral’ action on Northern Ireland Protocol

European Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets Union Mairead McGuinness. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

European Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets Union Mairead McGuinness. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

 

Reports suggesting the EU could impose checks on Irish goods going to continental Europe to solve the impasse over the Northern Ireland Protocol are incorrect, a European Commissioner has said.

Mairead McGuinness said the EU was willing to be flexible with the UK on the issue of checks on goods moving between Britain and the North, but that any extensions to the grace period for such checks must be achieved through “discussion and agreed solution” rather than London taking unilateral action.

Addressing the Senad committee on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU, Ms McGuinness said the commission had “identified flexibilities and technical solutions” including on issues such as medicines, Vat and tariffs.

However, she said “there comes a point in a relationship when if you are not being fairly treated or not being treated with respect, there is a need to respond”.

Ms McGuinness said she was “very happy” to hear her commission vice president Maroš Šefcovic deny “completely” reports that the EU would impose checks on goods leaving Ireland for the continent, effectively giving the State third country status alongside the UK.

Brexit problem

“There is no interest here at the commission to make the problem an Irish problem, because clearly this is a Brexit problem. It is a decision of the UK which they took in my view without consideration of the wider implications,” she said via video link from Brussls.

Ms McGuinness said “there is no discussion here” in the college of commissioners about checks on goods that would see Ireland “disadvantaged in terms of access to the single market”.

“I would like to stress very clearly that is not on the agenda here.”

Ms McGuinness said the EU wanted a strong relationship with the UK “as a close neighbour and a partner” but reiterated earlier warnings that Brussels would respond “firmly” if the UK took another unilateral decision to defer its commitments under the post-Brexit protocol. She said the EU had been forced to take legal action against the UK in March.

Unilateral declaration

“Imagine if you are in a room with somebody negotiating a deal and you have a conversation and the meeting ends and the second party goes outside and makes a unilateral declaration that they will diverge from the agreement signed up to, and they haven’t even told you or even passed a note to you to say this might happen or give you courtesy of a heads up. I think that is very damaging.”

Ms McGuinness said full implementation of the withdrawal agreement is a “prerequisite” for an EU-UK relationship built on trust.

She said the UK negotiated the protocol to replace the “backstop” agreed by former prime minister Theresa May and the EU agreed to it “in good faith” expecting that the agreement would be fully implemented.

“From our side we continue to engage to find pragmatic solutions,” she said.