Taoiseach plays down NI protocol tensions over meat checks

Martin believes row between EU and UK over imposition of post-Brexit controls can be resolved

 An Taoiseach Michéal Martin on  Princes Street in Cork city on Tuesday. He said: ‘We will take it step by step – before Christmas we had similar issues, we were heading towards a no-deal Brexit – Maros Sefcovic and David Frost managed to work things out and they got sorted.’ Photograph: Michael O’Sullivan /OSM Photo

An Taoiseach Michéal Martin on Princes Street in Cork city on Tuesday. He said: ‘We will take it step by step – before Christmas we had similar issues, we were heading towards a no-deal Brexit – Maros Sefcovic and David Frost managed to work things out and they got sorted.’ Photograph: Michael O’Sullivan /OSM Photo

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has sought to play down tensions between the European Union and the UK over the Northern Ireland protocol and said he remains confident a deal can be done.

Mr Martin said the most effective way to resolves the issues between the two sides was within the framework of the existing agreement and the engagement between negotiators, Maros Sefcovic and Lord David Frost.

“This is the best way to resolve these issues and it is important that we do resolve these issues and that trust is built up with the UK and the European Union or otherwise we will have continuing issues and problems,” he said.

Mr Martin was speaking in Cork on the eve of a meeting between UK and EU officials to discuss the protocol, which requires checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea to and from the EU single market in order to remove the need for a hard border between the Republic and the North.

The meeting comes after Mr Sefcovic had warned that the EU would act “swiftly, firmly and resolutely” if the UK decided unilaterally to extend the “grace period” beyond July 1st and delay the imposition of checks on chilled and processed meats sold to Northern Ireland.

However, UK environment secretary George Eustice has described putting controls on exporting sausages and processed meats from Britain to Northern Ireland as “nonsensical”.

A spokesman for prime minister Boris Johnson echoed Mr Eustice’s comments, saying there was “no case whatsoever” for barring the sale of chilled meats produced in Britain to Northern Ireland.

But Mr Martin moved to play down the tensions and suggested that similar tensions had looked as though they might scupper talks on a Brexit deal at Christmas only for the EU and the UK to agree a deal on Christmas Eve.

He said he believed the SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary) Agreement between the EU and the UK designed to protect people, animals and plants from disease covered about 80 per cent of trade between the two entities.

Mr Martin said the type of Brexit embarked upon by the UK did create challenges in terms of trade between the EU and the UK but he believed the impact of such a Brexit on goods going into Northern Ireland could be reduced.

“We will take it step by step – before Christmas we had similar issues, we were heading towards a no-deal Brexit – Maros Sefcovic and David Frost managed to work things out and they got sorted,” he said.