Coveney warns of ‘problem’ if UK not commited to post-Brexit deal on NI

Boris Johnson has called for ‘radical changes’ to post-Brexit deal on North

From left, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis, Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys, and Minister of State for Northern Ireland Robin Walker

From left, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis, Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys, and Minister of State for Northern Ireland Robin Walker

 

Simon Coveney has warned that it will be a “problem” if the kind of “radical changes” Downing Street says are needed to the post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland undermines commitment to the protocol.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs made the remarks after a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC), which was also attended by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis.

Unionists are opposed to the protocol that regulates the movement of certain goods between Britain and Northern Ireland and the British government is seeking concessions from the EU on the matter.

It has sought an extension of the grace period for chilled meets being sent to Northern Ireland from Britain and there are indications from Brussels that this will be granted.

However, British prime minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman on Thursday said “radical changes” are needed to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“That’s what’s necessary to mitigate the serious, real-world challenges being faced by businesses and the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.

Mr Coveney said he was not aware of the context of the comments but added: “If looking for radical change means that you’re not committed to the protocol that’s a problem.”

The protocol itself is international law. 

“The challenge for us is within the parameters of the protocol, how we maximise the flexibility that’s available to us to reduce the impact of the protocol to the maximum extent possible in terms of the disruptive impact on goods coming from GB to Northern Ireland.”

He insisted there are “very significant benefits linked to Northern Ireland having completely unfettered access to the EU single market and unfettered access to GB as well”.

Mr Lewis said the protocol is clear on areas like respecting the internal market of the UK and the Belfast Agreement and on not disrupting people’s every-day lives.

He said there are “issues and challenges” that mean the aims of the protocol are not being achieved and “we’ve got to find some ways forward.”

Mr Lewis said the British side has put forward “over a dozen papers around what we think is a pragmatic, flexible approach to achieve a result that will work for the people of Northern Ireland while still respecting the focus the EU has on its single market.”

He said he hoped for positive engagement on this.

EU response

Mr Lewis said his government is waiting for a formal response from the EU to the request for a grace period on the chilled meats issue saying he’s hopeful there will be a “flexible” way forward.

Speaking in Brussels while at a summit of EU leaders, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the EU should agree to extend a grace period to allow for unfrozen meats to continue to flow from Britain into Northern Ireland under its post-Brexit arrangements.

“This would be I think, in my view, an important signal in terms of European Union’s willingness to continue to be constructive... The Commission are obviously considering this now. The UK made a request in my view which would be granted,” Mr Martin told journalists.

“This would be the correct thing to do and it would it would be the right thing to do. And I think we need space in the context of Northern Ireland in particular to settle things down.”

Extending the grace period would give an opportunity for both sides to reach agreement on a longer solution, Mr Martin said, such as alignment by the UK on food plant and animals that would obviate the need for most checks.

“I think the extension of the grace period should be taken as a very positive sign. And as part of that then the UK Government should respond in a proactive way.”

Earlier Mr Coveney said the Irish Government has been “strongly” making the case at EU level for “flexibility and pragmatism but also an adherence to what was agreed.”

He said he hoped there will be progress on the request by the UK for a “modest extension to the grace period for chilled meats.”

Mr Coveney also said he wants progress on sensitive issues like guaranteeing supplies of medicine to Northern Ireland and exploring common veterinary and food standards that could cut the need for checks on goods. 

The BIICG talks included discussions on the political situation in the North, including the turbulence in the DUP .

Mr Lewis was optimistic that the parties in the North want stability and that the Stormont institutions will continue in operation.  

There was agreement that the BIIGC will meet more regularly and on the “urgent need” make progress on Northern Ireland legacy issues that supports reconciliation and responds to the needs of victims and survivors of the Troubles. 

There is to be “intensive engagement” on these issue to build on previous discussions about the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement. 

Other issues discussed at the BIIGC were the joint UK-Ireland bid to host the 2030 World Cup and the upcoming COP26 climate action talks.