Coveney hopes for UK reciprocation after EU shows flexibility on protocol

EU approach involved ‘listening to people’ in North and coming up with solutions

Coveney dismissed suggestions EU move could prompt  greater determination in London to remove  protocol, Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Coveney dismissed suggestions EU move could prompt greater determination in London to remove protocol, Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said he hopes the UK will reciprocate and show flexibility to the European Union in negotiations over the Northern Ireland protocol after Brussels offered various concessions.

Mr Coveney said that the proposals from EU chief negotiator and European Commission vice president Maroš Šefcovic, which will reduce the checks on goods going from Britain into Northern Ireland by 80 per cent, was a very significant move which should be recognised as such by the UK government.

“I certainly think the UK government should recognise that what the European Commission has proposed this week is a significant step forward,” he said. “They have said that they will engage constructively and seriously on that and I think we should take that as positive.”

Mr Coveney said comments earlier in the week by the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost, who proposed that an entirely new protocol would replace the existing one, were “unhelpful” as was the UK’s objection to the agreement being subject to supervision by the European Court of Justice.

“What happened on Wednesday was a significant effort by the EU to respond to real concerns in Northern Ireland. It’s not a perfect package, but it is one that I hope can be the basis of discussion between the two negotiating teams with a view to try and generate some trust between both sides,” he said during a visit to the Cork Business Association on Friday.

“Ultimately, this is about Northern Ireland and how it functions and responding to genuine concerns that have been expressed. I think the EU has really taken a step forward in a positive sense and I hope this will now be reciprocated on the UK side”.

Mr Coveney dismissed suggestions that the EU move could prompt an even greater determination in London to press ahead and seek the full removal of the protocol.

“Vice-president Šefcovic went to Northern Ireland, he listened to businesses and to political leaders there and he said he would try and respond to their concerns with pragmatic measures that would show the maximum level of flexibility possible but within the confines of the protocol,” the Minister said.

“That is exactly what he has delivered and this week, I think, has been proof positive that the European Union is listening to the concerns of everybody in Northern Ireland – unionist, nationalist, business leaders, stakeholders, civil society, the European Union is listening to all of their concerns.”

Mr Coveney said he believed Mr Šefcovic’s proposals had shown the maximum flexibility possible within the confines of the protocol and this had been recognised by the Northern Ireland business community, which has been “almost universally positive in its response”.

‘Upgrade’

However, former first minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson has said that while Mr Šefcovic’s proposals were “an upgrade”, he believed that “much more movement will be required” to bring unionists on board.

“What gets me most is the irrational political prejudice and overbearing haughtiness of the EU, who think it is a greater priority to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland than between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom of which we are part,” he wrote in the Newsletter.

But Mr Coveney rejected Mr Robinson’s analysis and said the EU proposals were not “a take it or leave it” but rather something that Mr Šefcovic’s team wanted to enter into discussions on with their British counterparts.

“There are detailed discussions ongoing now on the basis of these EU proposals but from our perspective, this is not about grandstanding in Westminster or people being triumphalist, it’s about producing a very real and comprehensive response to try to solve problems in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“The EU wants to be helpful here. This is not about a stand-off, it’s not about winners or losers, it’s about trying to create a partnership between the EU and the British government that can actually solve problems for people in Northern Ireland to reduce unnecessary checks when we can.”

Mr Coveney was asked if he shared Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar’s concern about the British government possibly not acting in good faith after Dominic Cummings, former adviser to prime minister Boris Johnson, said the UK always intended reneging on its Brexit deal with the EU.

He replied: “I think they (Mr Cummings’ comments) are worrying. I think people are asking themselves the question ‘Was this the plan all the time from the UK government?’ but my view on this is that it’s unhelpful to rake over all of those issues.”