British ECJ demands on NI protocol ‘not helpful’, says Coveney

Minister says UK government has obligation to comply with post-Brexit agreement

Simon Coveney: ‘We recognise that the British government has an issue there.’ Photograph: Eric Luke

Simon Coveney: ‘We recognise that the British government has an issue there.’ Photograph: Eric Luke


Demands by the British government for the removal of the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit arrangements were “new” and “not helpful” when they were made last week, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

It comes after Britain’s Brexit minister David Frost met with the European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic on Friday to discuss a range of proposed tweaks to the Northern Ireland protocol unveiled by the EU to ease its implementation.

“Unfortunately, the British government’s statements in the first half of last week before the Sefcovic announcement really [were] not helpful,” Mr Coveney said on arrival to a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg. “And in many ways was trying to move the political challenge away from solving practical problems on the ground, to a new problem, or a relatively new problem, at least in terms of the role of the ECJ.”

He said: “We recognise that the British government has an issue there. But we also recognise that the British government has obligations under international law to comply with the treaty that they themselves designed, ratified and, and now have an obligation to implement.”

He described the proposals of the European Commission to reduce customs formalities and slash the number of checks on goods from Britain destined for Northern Irish supermarket shelves as significant.

“It’s important to recognise that last week, the European Commission made a major move to improve dialogue and communications to ensure that Northern Ireland is very much involved in plans for the future on how the protocol functions,” said Mr Coveney.

“The combination of all of those things I think sends a very clear signal to Northern Ireland that the EU is listening, and is genuinely trying to use the maximum possible flexibility within the confines of the protocol to solve problems.”

However, in a statement released on Monday the British government reiterated a demand that changes to the protocol should extend to the issue of “governance” as set out in a British paper in July that called for the removal of the role of the ECJ.

Mr Frost and Mr Sefcovic “discussed the proposals published by the EU” at the Friday meeting, the statement read, and “Lord Frost recognised the efforts Vice President Sefcovic had made in bringing these forward”.

However, Mr Frost “set out the UK position and reaffirmed the need for significant changes to the current arrangements, as set out in the 21 July Command Paper, including on governance,” it added.

Talks are to continue this week and Mr Coveney expressed hope that there would be progress on the issue in the coming weeks.