Coveney open to ‘modest extension’ for NI protocol

Minister for Foreign Affairs insists no renegotiation of Brexit withdrawal agreement

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said he is open to ‘modest extensions’ and grace periods for the NI protocol. File photograph: Reuters

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said he is open to ‘modest extensions’ and grace periods for the NI protocol. File photograph: Reuters

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said he is open to “modest extensions” and grace periods for the Northern Ireland protocol but insisted the agreement itself is not subject to renegotiation.

Mr Coveney said the protocol – which has been in place since the Brexit withdrawal agreement – was signed in January and is working. But he acknowledged there were some difficulties in relation to implementation.

“My job and the job of the EU Commission is to make sure the protocol works as smoothly as it can,” he said.

While accepting there were some issues and unionists, especially the DUP, are campaigning to scrap it, he said: “You cannot simply scrap an element of an international treaty five weeks into its implementation because you don’t like elements of it.”

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s This Week programme, the Minister said he had been speaking this weekend to the British government’s de facto Brexit minister, Michael Gove, and Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis.

Asked if he was amenable to the suggestion from Mr Gove to extend some grace periods, Mr Coveney referred to different grace periods for different sectors to adjust to new rules.

He said there is a three-month waiver for supermarkets before they have to use health certificates. He added that there is a six-month period for chilled meats and a similar time span for medicines.

“We need to find accommodation for each other here that will reduce tensions in Northern Ireland, can respond to legitimate concerns regardless of who is raising them, and can show the protocol can be flexible when needed.

“I am open to advocating for modest extensions or grace periods when appropriate to try to reassure people we are listening to them and, secondly, to ensure that business can operate as best they can under the protocol.

“That is not the same thing as scrapping the protocol,” he said.

Appeal to DUP

Meanwhile, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has warned that powersharing in Northern Ireland could be under threat if political unionism continues to agitate for the “unrealistic” scrapping of new Irish Sea trading arrangements.

Mr Eastwood urged the DUP to end talk of political boycotts and dial down the rhetoric. Instead it should join with other Stormont parties to find workable solutions to issues linked to the Northern Ireland protocol.

Asked by RTÉ if there could be a threat to powersharing if unionists took an increasingly hardline approach to the protocol, Mr Eastwood replied: “Yes, I think there could be and unionism needs to learn the lesson that they should have learned a number of times over the past 100 years – the British government will let you down. And if you keep going to the right you’re going to end up in a worse position when you come back to the table.

“So come and work with us. Let’s get together, the spirit of powersharing is what’s important right now, working in partnership to deal with the problems.”

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