Northern Ireland Protocol: Unilateral action ‘never works’, Coveney warns British

If British breach protocol ‘it’d be very problematic and will damage relationships even further’

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney at the British Irish Council summit at Lough Erne Resort, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, on Friday. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney at the British Irish Council summit at Lough Erne Resort, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, on Friday. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has warned the British government that “unilateral action when it comes to sensitive issues in Northern Ireland never works”.

The dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol escalated as the leaders of the G7 met in Cornwall and British prime minister Boris Johnson said he would do whatever it takes to keep goods moving from Britain to the North.

In a bitter dispute with the European Union over trading rules after Brexit, Mr Johnson said he would not hesitate to take unilateral action. Restrictions on the import of chilled meats including sausages from Britain to Northern Ireland are expected to come into effect on July 1st, but the UK is considering extending the grace period beyond that deadline, without agreement from the EU.

Mr Coveney said if the UK authorities acted unilaterally in such a way it would be “really problematic and it’s going take this process backwards, not forwards. And I think that is going to be a very strong message coming from Dublin to London, that unilateral action when it comes to sensitive issues in Northern Ireland never works.

“The way in which we solve problems in Northern Ireland is always on the basis of Dublin, London working together. And in this case it’s got to be on the basis of London and the EU, working together to try and find a pragmatic way forwards.”

He said that following the G7 meeting, Mr Johnson will be “in no doubt as to the strength of feeling within the EU, and particularly from Washington” about concerns over non-implementation of the protocol, the peace process and political stability on the island of Ireland.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme, Mr Coveney said Mr Johnson will now understand very clearly that if Britain acts unilaterally again and breaches the protocol, “there will be consequences to that and it’d be very problematic and it will damage relationships even further”.

He said what was needed now was “experienced negotiators on both sides” to use pragmatism to honour commitment both sides made when they signed up to the protocol.

‘For a British audience’

British foreign secretary Dominic Raab accused the EU of trying to undermine the status of Northern Ireland within the UK, but Mr Coveney said he would not read too much into such comments because “I think that was for primarily a British audience”.

The problem with Brexit, he said, “over and over again for the last number of years is that often the rhetoric we get from the British government is very much about British politics, as opposed to trying to find a solution that the EU and the UK can decide together”.

He warned that the “impact of the politics of the protocol in Northern Ireland is very corrosive. It’s polarising opinion, it’s causing tensions between political parties and political leaders” and “it’s also causing tensions within communities in Northern Ireland, because many see us as an unfair deal”.

He said there was a need to be honest about the protocol because many people saw it implemented in the North in a way they had not anticipated, “and that was partly because the protocol hasn’t been sold or explained to people”.

Agreement was possible on phytosanitary standards, common food standards, which could reduce the number of checks at ports in Northern Ireland on goods coming from Britain by 80 per cent, and Mr Coveney said “ that is a prize worth fighting for”.

He added that “it would be a significant improvement in terms of how the protocol is implemented in a way that reduces disruption, so that is why President Biden is very supportive of that approach”.

Mr Coveney said work was continuing to resolve other problems as he noted concerns of DUP leader Edwin Poots over problems with the supply of medicines from Britain.

Mr Coveney said the EU had made proposals to ensure continuity of uninterrupted supply. “So there is a real effort here to try to resolve political problems and practical problems on the ground.”