Suggestion of July 12th protocol deadline ‘a sick joke’

SDLP leader says impasse will not be solved by ‘grand gestures’

The suggestion that July 12th could be regarded as a deadline for changes to the Northern Ireland protocol was described as ‘a sick joke’ by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood. File photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

The suggestion that July 12th could be regarded as a deadline for changes to the Northern Ireland protocol was described as ‘a sick joke’ by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood. File photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Britain’s threatened deadline of July 12th for the EU to ease post-Brexit trade checks with the North has been denounced as a “sick joke”.

David Frost, London’s cabinet minister in charge of relations with the EU, has privately set the peak of the loyalist marching season as a cut-off date for changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, according to reports.

The Daily Telegraph quoted a government source as saying the “marching season is a date whereby you would want to have a material improvement in what is happening.”

“We need a bit of movement by then because that is when we risk seeing the kind of disruption and the protests that we had recently,” the source told the newspaper.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the reported deadline appeared to be “some sort of sop to unionism, but unionists should remember who negotiated the Protocol.”

“I think it might be a sick joke,” he said.

“(Frost) is the guy who actually negotiated the Protocol, on behalf of a government who refused to do anything to mitigate the issue of the border, and continued to work towards the hardest possible Brexit, that meant we needed the Protocol.”

Unionists have called for the scrapping of the protocol, which has created a de facto trade border for some goods between Britain and the North, to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and protect the EU’s single market.

But Mr Eastwood said the impasse over the clause would not be moved on by “grand gestures around the 12th July”.

“People need to be aware there is no solution by pretending it can be scrapped,” he said.

“The people of Northern Ireland - unionist, nationalist and other - have all been used by the British government as a negotiating and bargaining chip.”

No one on either side of the Brexit debate wanted the Protocol but “there is no choice given the way David Frost and the British government approached the issue aided and abetted by the DUP, who want to blame everyone else for the predicament they got us all into,” he said.

According to a UK roadmap for implementing the protocol, reported by the BBC, new border checks on the Irish Sea on food products will be phased in over four stages from October.

Fresh meat products will be subjected to checks first, followed by dairy products, plants and wine at the end of January 2022, with dates not given for phases three and four which will relate to fruit and vegetable marketing, pet food, organics and composite products.

Over the weekend, Mr Frost accused the EU of taking a very “purist” approach to the protocol, and claimed Brussels “needs, rapidly, to find a new approach and new solutions.”

Neale Richmond, Fine Gael spokesman on European affairs, said the “whole carry on is exhausting”.

With regard to the July 12th deadline, he said: “One would assume he knows the significance of the date, but one doesn’t assume anything anymore. All this pinning everything on the protocol doesn’t help things on the ground.

“It feeds into the hands of opponents of the protocol to go for an absolutist position.”

Mr Richmond said people “shouting louder and louder” in the North that it needs to be scrapped are “not presenting any alternative, and played a large part in bringing it about in the first place.”

The EU is getting “sick and tired of the constant gamesmanship and brinkmanship” of the British government, which is bound under an international agreement to implement the clause, he said.

“This is their Brexit, this is their Protocol. It is not a foreign construct,” he added.