EU shoots down suggestion Ireland could be shut out of single market

No agreement as talks between Sefcovic and Frost on Northern Ireland protocol break up

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic (L) and his UK counterpart David Frost meet in London. Photograph:  Eddie Mulholland / POOL / AFP

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic (L) and his UK counterpart David Frost meet in London. Photograph: Eddie Mulholland / POOL / AFP

 

EU sources emphatically denied a report that the possibility of checks between Ireland and the rest of the EU had been privately discussed if Britain persisted in not implementing the checks needed to protect the Single Market.

A report in Brussels-based outlet Politico Europe said that an “emergency plan” was being discussed by EU officials and diplomats to introduce checks on goods from Ireland to the rest of the Single Market.

An Irish government source dismissed the report as “not true at all” while it was dismissed by an EU official as a “load of s***e”.

The European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic described the report as “simply not true”.

“EU leaders are quite simple: they will not allow the former coloniser to force Ireland out of the internal market,” an EU diplomat said.

“Unity above all. Ireland will not be dropped. The UK will have to start with implementing the deal.”

The diplomat said the EU had no choice but to insist on the full application of Single Market rules as long as Britain maintained an “uncompromising negotiation stance” and refused to consider aligning on food, plant and animal standards.

The Irish Government, in an attempt to reach a solution to the Protocol had suggested compromises that went too far in loosening the rules, the diplomat added.

“I do think that Dublin in its attempt to find a solution is asking EU member states to entertain flexibility outside the comfort zone of some member states,” the diplomat said. “A sausage might as well be Chinese footwear or textiles worth 2.7 billion.”

Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher warned the idea would be toxic to Ireland’s relationship with the EU.

“These proposals must be shot down immediately by the Irish Government. The door on this idea must be firmly slammed shut,” Mr Kelleher said in a statement.

“Ireland is an unashamedly pro-EU country. Our people see the obvious benefits of being in the EU, and in particular the EU Single Market. Any attempt to restrict access to this market for Ireland and Irish companies will severely affect our relationship with the European Union.

“The EU cannot let the British government get away with failing to implement the Protocol properly and at the same time, punish Ireland. That is not what EU membership is about,” Mr Kelleher said.

Discussions

The report from Politico emerged as EU and UK officials met in London for talks amid an impasse over the Northern Ireland Protocol. Talks broke without apparent agreement.

The EU accuses Britain of failing to implement basic aspects of a post-Brexit agreement to check certain goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland, opening up a hole in the side of the Single Market.

The British government accuses the EU of being too rigid in its interpretation of the rules, and that implementing certain checks has become too politically sensitive due to unionist opposition.

The introduction of checks on trade between the Republic and the rest of the EU to ensure the protection of the Single Market, which would treat Ireland as though it had left the bloc as well as the UK, is considered a nightmare scenario that would hammer the Irish economy.

But the EU diplomat expressed confidence that the UK would have to back down.

“We have the market of the 27, as well as the global market so we can be patient,” the diplomat said. “We just hope [DUP leader Edmund] Poots and [David] Frost don’t accidentally set fire to their own backyard first.”

Brexit minister Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic ended their discussions in London with no sign of a breakthrough.

Ahead of the talks Lord Frost warned that time was running out to reach agreement and called on the EU to adopt a “common sense” approach to checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Mr Sefcovic warned that Brussels would act “firmly and resolutely” if the UK unilaterally decided to delay checks intended to ensure there was no return to a hard border with the Republic.

Mr Frost said there had been “no breakthroughs” with the EU on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, including over sausages and chilled meats, after discussions.

Following talks spanning three and a half hours in London, Mr Sefcovic told broadcasters: “The problem we’ve got is the Protocol is being implemented in a way which is causing disruption in Northern Ireland and we had some pretty frank and honest discussions about that situation today.”

In Admiralty House on Whitehall, the Tory peer said: “There weren’t any breakthroughs. There aren’t any breakdowns either and we’re going to carry on talking.

“What we really now need to do is very urgently find some solutions which support the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, support the peace process in Northern Ireland and allow things to return to normal.” - Additional Reporting PA