Ireland cannot become a victim of decisions in London, says Coveney

Minister issues warning after meeting his UK counterpart Liz Truss in Turin

Ireland cannot become a victim of British government decisions and the European Union will retaliate if it unilaterally overrides the Northern Ireland protocol, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney warned after meeting his UK counterpart Liz Truss in Turin, Italy.

Mr Coveney appealed to Ms Truss to abandon plans to introduce legislation that would override the deal governing Northern Ireland's post-Brexit arrangements reached between Britain and the EU in 2019.

“I asked her not to bring forward legislation that would affectively breach international law,” Mr Coveney told the Irish Times, describing the meeting as “direct and forthright”.

“I don’t want to pretend that the British government’s position changed as a result of the meeting today. I don’t think so. But certainly she’s in no doubt as to the concerns and the frustrations that Ireland has.”

He warned that the EU would be forced to respond if Britain breaches its side of the agreement, which raises the prospect of the EU disapplying the free trade agreement reached with London that allows for tariff-free trade.

“If they disapply the protocol then the EU will be forced into retaliating,” Mr Coveney said.

“There’s no way that you can allow a situation where Ireland north and south becomes the collateral damage of the British government’s disapplying important parts of the protocol that are there for good reason. So we can’t allow a situation where Ireland effectively becomes the victim of decision making in London.”

In a statement issued on Twitter, Ms Truss said the British government wanted to uphold the Belfast Agreement and restore power sharing in Northern Ireland. “We remain open to a negotiated solution but we cannot allow any more drift,” she said.

Mr Coveney said he had told the British foreign secretary he agreed with her that there should be compromise and flexibility on how the protocol is implemented, to reduce the number of checks on goods.

“I think we can achieve a lot of the objectives that have been outlined by unionist leaders in recent months. But that doesn’t seem to be enough for Secretary Truss. And that’s the problem,” Mr Coveney said. “It creates a very bad atmosphere in these discussions, and I think it will make compromise a lot more difficult.”

Mr Coveney said Ireland’s position was supported by every European Union member state he had spoken to, as well as by the European Commission and the United States.

“The UK, for whatever reason, are deciding to set aside international law, act unilaterally, and create tension unnecessarily with a lot of countries that they call friends,” Mr Coveney said.

The foreign affairs ministers of the Council of Europe’s 46 member states met in Turin on Friday.

On Friday, a nine-strong delegation of top bipartisan US representatives arrived in Brussels and held talks with the European Commission’s point man on the protocol, Maros Sefcovic.

After meeting Mr Sefcovic, Congressman Richard Neal wrote on Twitter: “The greatest strength between the United States and the European Commission is our unity.”

It was the start of a trip with stops scheduled for London and Dublin, in a significant intervention aimed to resolve tensions over the Protocol led by Mr Neal, who chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee that oversees US trade deals.

On the outset of his trip Mr Neal repeated a warning that Congress would block a free trade deal with Britain if its government undermined the Belfast Agreement. “We don’t believe that Ireland should be held hostage to turbulence in the UK political structure,” he told the Financial Times.

In a separate interview, the Democrat said that only seven per cent of people cast their vote in Northern Ireland’s election based on the protocol, disputing that it was an issue for most people there.

“The broader occurrence here is that the protocol was duly negotiated by the British prime minister. Now we are being told that it is necessary to have a renegotiation of the negotiation to get the DUP into government,” he told POLITICO. “It’s an international agreement that should be adhered to.”