UK government has ‘not been very fair’ in protocol talks, says Ahern

Partnership arrangement between the governments ‘effectively gone’, he says

The British government has "not been very fair" in negotiations with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol and needs to "wise up" to the fact that without meaningful progress on the issue trade deals with countries including the US will be impossible, the former taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio on Sunday Mr Ahern called for negotiations on the protocol to be broken out from other elements of Britain's ongoing talks with the EU and expressed concern over the breakdown in the relationship between the Irish and British governments.

"Our concentration of effort has to be to resolve the protocol issue," the former taoiseah and one of the principal architects of the Belfast Agreement said.

"If we can resolve the protocol issue, if Boris Johnson's means what he said during the week and Brandon Lewis means when he said, it should have nothing to do with the Tory leadership. It should have nothing to do with a services agreement, or banking passports or insurance issues."

He called for both sides to “keep it to the Irish issues; what we need to do is to solve the protocol”.

He pointed to “difficult issues like the European Court of Justice, like EU tax laws, like state aid rules” that need to be resolved but suggested that “from our position to get the Executive opened or to get the institutions in the North working, it seems to me not beyond the bounds of possibility to get an agreement on that”.

“The other issues can continue, maybe for some months still,” he suggested.

Mr Ahern accused the British side of making unrealistic demands in talks with the EU and said it was “just impossible” that the EU would accept UK standards for checking foods from around the world.

He expressed the view that "sooner rather than later somebody has to say to the UK, that the European Union is a political body. It has legal powers enshrined within its governance operations. It's built on a legal framework of different regulations and directives, and a variety of EU treaties that are vested in the EU institutions, and that they have powers and competencies and they can't willy nilly break those positions."

He said part of that challenge was that the partnership arrangement between the Irish and UK governments was “effectively gone” and he added that he was “deeply concerned about the Good Friday Agreement”.

He did say, however, that it would be possible to find a solution to the impasse. “If they can leave the other issues aside, I believe that compromises can be made, but if they stick to their position firmly that will never solve this, that is not negotiations. Negotiations are about compromise.”