Difficulties in the North due to Brexit, not protocol, insists Barnier

EU’s chief negotiator says measure to prevent hard border is the solution, not the problem

 Michel Barnier: ‘The difficulties on the island of Ireland are caused by Brexit, not by the protocol.’  Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq, Pool via AP

Michel Barnier: ‘The difficulties on the island of Ireland are caused by Brexit, not by the protocol.’ Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq, Pool via AP

 

Difficulties in Northern Ireland are due to Brexit rather than the Northern Ireland protocol, which is the “solution”, the European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday.

His comments come as British and EU officials meet to discuss the North’s post-Brexit arrangements in London after appeals from the British government to ease the rules.

“Both parties must be conscious of their responsibilities in applying fully this protocol. The difficulties on the island of Ireland are caused by Brexit, not by the protocol,” Mr Barnier told an online event of the European Business Summit. “The protocol is the solution.”

The protocol, which sets out that Northern Ireland will remain largely in line with the EU while checks take place on goods arriving from Britain, was designed to reconcile London’s goal of a hard Brexit with the need to avoid a border on the island of Ireland.

There was no possibility of re-opening talks on the issue, Mr Barnier said, describing the negotiating period as over.

The British government has requested wide-ranging carve-outs to the arrangements it agreed to, including a two-year extension to “grace periods” that were given to allow businesses more time to adjust.

This week, the European Commission’s Maros Sefcovic ruled out far-reaching changes in a letter to British cabinet minister Michael Gove, his co-chair on the UK-EU joint committee that governs the arrangements.

In addition, Britain needed to do more to implement controls that were agreed with the EU, Mr Sefcovic wrote, such as giving observers access to customs IT systems.

Mr Barnier said a period of adjustment was to be expected as traders get used to the new requirements for paperwork and checks on food.

“Many of these consequences have not been correctly explained, they have been generally underestimated,” Mr Barnier said.

Addressing whether the EU would grant equivalence decisions on financial services, which would allow British firms access to the bloc, Mr Barnier said additional information was required from the UK before a decision could be made.

“Equivalence decisions are and will remain unilateral of each party and are not subject to negotiation,” he said.

It comes after Amsterdam overtook London as Europe’s largest share trading centre last month, due to business relocating due to Brexit.