Simon Coveney says UK keeps dismissing EU’s protocol proposals

Minister for Foreign Affairs asks why Britain signed up to protocol if European Court of Justice was red line

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: ‘The EU tries to solve problems, the UK dismisses the solutions before they’re even published and asks for more’. Photograph: The Irish Times

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: ‘The EU tries to solve problems, the UK dismisses the solutions before they’re even published and asks for more’. Photograph: The Irish Times


Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has warned that the EU was very close to refusing the latest demands from the British government over Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol.

Each time that the European Union comes forward with new proposals over the Northern Ireland protocol, “they are dismissed by the UK” before they were published, he told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland.

“This has been the position all year, each time that the European Union comes forward with new ideas, new proposals to try to solve problems, they’re dismissed before they’re released and that’s happening again this week, but this week it’s even more serious.”

The protocol left Northern Ireland under some EU trade rules after Brexit to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. Border checks on goods moving to Northern Ireland from Britain have angered unionists and led to a threat from the UK to suspend the arrangement.

Mr Coveney said that European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefcovic and his negotiating team on behalf of the EU had been working for weeks, if not months, preparing the package due to be launched on Wednesday dealing with difficulties caused by the Northern Ireland protocol.

The package was to ensure that medicines get into Northern Ireland, and “ensuring that chilled meats can get into Northern Ireland, ensuring that we streamline the customs systems, ensuring that we can reduce checks where possible if goods are staying in Northern Ireland, that we can introduce new structures to increase representation for Northern Ireland in terms of understanding the workings of the protocol...

“These are the practical measures that the European Union is going to introduce on Wednesday. Šefcovic has worked hard to bring proposals having listened to business and reps in Northern Ireland, when David Frost accuses me of raising issues on social media it’s a bit rich quite frankly because he is briefing British media, effectively to say well the EU can make changes they need to make but actually it’s not enough, we want more and now it’s the ECJ [European Court of Justice] that is the main issue.”

Mr Coveney asked that if the ECJ was a red line for the UK, then why did he think they had signed up to the protocol.

“If the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in terms of the functioning of the EU single market was an absolute red line for the UK, why did they sign up to an agreement that allowed the ECJ to effectively be the final arbitrator for the implementation of the protocol in Northern Ireland?

“This is being seen across the European Union as the same pattern over and over again. The EU tries to solve problems, the UK dismisses the solutions before they’re even published and asks for more. As a result of that I think people are asking themselves the question, do the UK government want to solve these problems in the interest of Northern Ireland and businesses there or is this going to be a continuing source of tension between the UK and the EU?

“Unfortunately if it is, Ireland is the country that suffers most North and South as a result of that because of the polarising impact and politics of Northern Ireland on the protocol and the deep concerns that many in the Unionist community has in relation to it.”

The British government seemed to be shifting the goalposts, he said. The EU could not compromise any more.

When asked if it had been “not very diplomatic” to tweet on Saturday night about the protocol, Mr Coveney said “I don’t think it was very diplomatic, but I don’t think it was diplomatic either to brief the main British newspapers on a speech that David Frost intends to give in Portugal tomorrow”.

Meanwhile, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said he had “concerns” about the role of the ECJ as a final arbiter in any disputes, but he refused to be drawn on whether it was a red line issue for his party in the event of its difficulties with the Irish Sea border being resolved.

“We do recognise there are genuine issues around the governance of arrangements and I think the UK government has a point when it says that it is unfair that in arbitration on disputes between the UK and the EU it is the EU’s court that is the final arbiter,” he said.

“In any dispute resolution process it is very rare that you have one side having the final say on arbitration.

“Surely, what is needed is some form of independent arbitration process.”

Mr Donaldson said he would judge the EU’s proposals “in the round” and that he was “not going to at this stage preempt what the EU are going to propose.”

“We do have concerns around the jurisdiction of the European court in these matters as being the final arbiter,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

“We do not believe they are fully independent when it comes to arbitrating on issues related to trade between the United Kingdom and the European Union. We recognise why the (UK) government has that concern, but the government in the end is the negotiating party and they have to press these issues.”

Mr Donaldson said he wanted to see the EU on Wednesday propose the removal of the Irish Sea border. “We recognise there will need to be separate arrangements to ensure that goods travelling into the EU from the United Kingdom, whether that is via Northern Ireland or otherwise, that those goods meet EU standards,” he added.

“But for goods remaining within the United Kingdom, and specifically goods travelling from Great Britain and staying in Northern Ireland, there is no reason whatsoever for customs checks and that’s why we believe that any proposals must remove that Irish Sea border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”