British government and the NI protocol

 

Sir, – Your editorial describes the British government’s approach to the Northern Ireland protocol as “reckless” (“The Irish Times view on the row over the Northern Ireland protocol: A bout of reckless sabre-rattling”, May 20th).

What would be truly reckless would be to ignore the growing levels of concern in Northern Ireland about the operation of the protocol and the possible consequences for political stability in Northern Ireland and thus the Belfast Agreement itself.

As I wrote in these pages on March 5th, the protocol is not an end in itself: its objective is to uphold the Belfast Agreement in all its dimensions. This includes preserving Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK, ensuring stability of the powersharing institutions in Northern Ireland, and preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The protocol is thus a unique solution to uniquely complex challenges.

It is unsurprising that giving effect to it, with limited time to prepare and in the midst of a pandemic, has been challenging, notwithstanding extensive work by the UK and the Northern Ireland Executive and huge efforts by businesses to meet the requirements.

It is also clear that its operation is having a substantial impact on both business and consumers in Northern Ireland. The UK and the EU agreed that the protocol should have as little impact on everyday lives in Northern Ireland as possible. Sadly, this is not currently proving the case.

There are also political challenges. The European Commission’s invocation of Article 16 in late January, however quickly withdrawn, damaged cross-community confidence in the protocol. The British government’s objective remains to ensure stability and post-Covid recovery in Northern Ireland at this sensitive time politically. This is crucial to maintaining strong support for the Belfast Agreement. As we have repeatedly said, we want to find pragmatic solutions to the challenges of implementation, through constructive discussions with the European Commission. These have been taking place in the last few weeks and will continue. The UK has engaged fully in that process, submitting options and ideas that would help to address some of the serious issues with how the protocol is operating. This is not the place for a running commentary on the discussions. We want to find “workable solutions on the ground”, as the UK and EU agreed earlier in the year.

Ultimately, we will always do what is required to uphold the Belfast Agreement in all its dimensions, and thus the stability of Northern Ireland itself. – Yours, etc,

PAUL JOHNSTON,

British Ambassador

to Ireland,

British Embassy,

Dublin 4