Pessimism in Dublin over prospects of NI protocol breakthrough

UK government breaching agreement would ‘put everybody in a bad space’, Coveney says

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is due in Belfast today for talks aimed at breaking the political deadlock caused by unionist concerns over the Northern Ireland protocol and restoring a functioning Assembly and Executive at Stormont.

The mood in Dublin over the UK's approach to the post-Brexit protocol continued to darken ahead of Mr Martin's meetings with Northern political party leaders and business representatives.

The threat remains of unilateral action by the UK government – which has said it will soon begin legislating to set aside parts of the protocol it agreed as part of the UK’s departure from the EU. Irish officials and politicians, who have been in contact with their counterparts in London, expressed pessimism about finding a solution in the weeks ahead.

Mr Martin spoke to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long yesterday about the situation. Officials said he and Ms Von der Leyen agreed that what was being proposed by London was unacceptable.

“The EU and Ireland are on the same page: international agreements cannot be disapplied unilaterally,” Ms Von der Leyen wrote later on Twitter. “The UK needs to work with us to find joint, workable solutions.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is to hold talks with UK foreign secretary Liz Truss at a Council of Europe event in Turin today.

Speaking ahead of their meeting, Mr Coveney said that “there can be no ambiguity” that Ms Truss was proposing to “break international law deliberately” through the legislation overriding parts of the protocol. Ms Truss has said that she intends to publish a legal statement backing up her plans.

“She can justify that if she wants to in the House of Commons in terms of British law, but there is no ambiguity in my mind that this is a government choosing to legislate in a way to set aside international law that they themselves have been responsible for designing, ratifying and agreeing,” he said.

DUP protest

Following this month’s Northern Irish election, the DUP blocked the appointment of a speaker at Stormont as part of its protest over the protocol, which means the Assembly cannot sit and there is only a caretaker Executive with limited powers.

Ahead of his party’s meeting with the Taoiseach, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson warned it was time for Dublin to “belatedly recognise that if nothing is fixed then there will be no progress”.

He said the protocol, designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, had “damaged both Northern Ireland’s economic and democratic arrangements” and “must be replaced by arrangements that can command the support of unionists as well as nationalists”. He said the choice was “clear” and the “current protocol is incompatible” with the Belfast Agreement.

Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy said there was “no reason why the Assembly and the Executive can’t function” and that the DUP could engage with the UK government regarding the protocol while Stormont was up and running.

In London, EU ambassador to the UK Joao Vale de Almeida told journalists there was a severe lack of trust between the two sides and there appeared little sign of a “happy ending” to the dispute.

Mr Coveney said the UK’s approach would have “real consequences” for Britain’s reputation internationally, which he hoped the UK government would reflect on, not just out of necessity but “in a practical sense” because the EU was willing to work with the UK to resolve the issues.

“We have made it very clear that if Britain forces the EU into responding to a breach of international law, that puts everybody in a bad space,” he said.