Johnson tells Martin EU must show ‘pragmatism’ on protocol

US urges Britain, EU to negotiate within ‘existing mechanisms’ of Brexit agreement

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and prime minister Boris Johnson have spoken ahead of Wednesday's announcement of Britain's proposals to change how the Northern Ireland protocol is implemented. Downing Street said Mr Johnson told the Taoiseach that the EU must show "pragmatism" in dealing with problems related to the protocol.

"The prime minister emphasised that the way the protocol is currently operating is causing significant disruption for the people in Northern Ireland. He made clear the UK government's commitment to protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions. He said the EU must show pragmatism and solutions needed to be found to address the serious challenges that have arisen with the protocol," a spokesperson said.

Government Buildings confirmed the two men discussed the protocol and said that the Taoiseach told the prime minister that the British statements on the protocol to be made at Westminster tomorrow would be “carefully considered”.

“He stressed the EU-UK framework for issues related to the protocol,” Dublin said.

The leaders also exchanged views on the current Covid situation, especially as regards the Delta variant, the Irish statement continued.

The Taoiseach also raised legacy issues, Dublin said, pointing to differences with the British government over its controversial proposal to offer a blanket amnesty to soldiers and paramilitaries for Troubles-related offences. The statement said Mr Martin had raised “serious concerns at the British Government’s proposals”.

“He emphasised that there can be no pre-determined outcome to the consultation process currently under way,” the Irish statement said.

"The prime minister stressed that the current focus on criminal justice is not working for anyone and looked forward to further engagement with the Irish Government, parties in Northern Ireland and others on the UK's proposals," a Downing Street spokesperson said.

Brexit minister David Frost and Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis will make parallel statements outlining the new proposals in the House of Lords and the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon. The proposals will also be set out in a command paper to be published tomorrow.

Lord Frost said this week that the protocol is “not sustainable” in its current form and he is expected to call for sweeping changes to its implementation that would eliminate most checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea. He is also expected to repeat Britain’s threat to suspend parts of the agreement by triggering Article 16 by stating that “all options” remain on the table.

The Taoiseach was due to meet Mr Johnson in London on Tuesday but the meeting was cancelled after Mr Johnson was forced to go into self-isolation.

Brexit agreement

Ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, the US state department urged Britain and the EU to negotiate within “the existing mechanisms” of the Brexit agreement.

Responding to a question from The Irish Times in Washington, a state department spokesman said the announcement is “something that we are watching”.

"As we've consistently said over time, we do support a close relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union and we encourage them to negotiate within the existing mechanisms when differences do arise," said the spokesman.

Lord Frost said last week that he does not believe that the agreed Northern Ireland protocol is “definitive”. But a US state department spokesman Ned Price said the US supported the Brexit agreement and Northern Ireland protocol, which he said protects the Belfast Agreement.

“We’ve consistently said that we welcome the provisions in both the trade and co-operation agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol between the UK and the European Union which importantly protect the gains of the Belfast/ Good Friday Agreement.”

He said: “You’ve heard president Biden speak of his commitment to these landmark agreements and that of course remains. As the UK and EU implement Brexit-related provisions, the Biden administration encourages them to prioritise political and economic stability in Northern Ireland.”

The Biden administration has taken a close interest in the negotiations between Britain and the European Union, particularly in terms of Brexit’s impact on Northern Ireland.

Last month the US issued a diplomatic rebuke to Mr Johnson’s government for endangering the peace process over Brexit ahead of the G7 summit in Cornwall, and the controversy overshadowed Mr Biden’s bilateral meeting with Mr Johnson.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent