There is no appetite in the European Union to renegotiate the post-Brexit settlement on Northern Ireland, European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said ahead of an all-island trip to discuss the issue.
The EU Brexit chief is to make his first visit to Northern Ireland this week. He will also meet with Taoiseach Micheál Martin before having discussions with political leaders, business groups, civic society and young people at Queen’s University Belfast.
Mr Sefcovic’s visit takes place as Brussels and London wrestle with the fallout of the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU. The commission is keen to bed down Northern Ireland’s special post-Brexit arrangements under the protocol without renewing political tensions over the issue.
“My aim in this visit is really to listen very carefully to what are the concrete problems the people of Northern Ireland are facing, because of the consequences of Brexit and the type of Brexit chosen by the UK government,” he said.
“I know there are quite a few challenges. And on some of them we are already presenting our ideas and discussing very closely with [the] UK and Northern Irish representatives and I want to test some of these ideas, to listen [to] what are . . . concrete, practical issues which we can solve.”
Earlier this week the British government announced it would continue to waive several rules agreed under the protocol for an indefinite period of time, to avoid additional checks on goods travelling from Britain coming into force.
It drew a muted reaction from the commission, which said it would not revive legal proceedings against London for breaching the deal, in favour of constructive engagement to find solutions.
Not an option
However, Mr Sefcovic warned that a renegotiation of the deal was not an option.
“I think that this is clearly with the position and the feeling in the European commission and I would say across the EU: that we can find the good solutions within the protocol,” he said.
“I believe that we have enough creativity and enough goodwill to solve it. So let’s focus on the concrete problems, let’s not try to renegotiate the protocol, this is definitely not our aim.”