EU to remain ‘united’ against UK plan to unwind Brexit deal, says Italian minister

‘Impossible’ that British alternative NI plan can work, says Italy’s minister for European affairs Vincenzo Amendola

The EU will remain “calm, firm but united” against the UK’s plan to unwind the Northern Ireland Brexit deal, Italy’s minister for European affairs Vincenzo Amendola has said.

Speaking on a visit to Dublin, Mr Amendola said it would be “impossible” for the UK government’s alternative plan to the Northern Ireland protocol to protect the EU single market.

The green-channel red-channel system proposed by Boris Johnson’s government as an alternative to the protocol would not protect the EU single market against fraud or cover the health checks required on food for the EU market rules, the Italian minister told The Irish Times.

The EU and the UK are in dispute over the Brexit deal agreed in 2019 that keeps Northern Ireland under EU single market rules for goods and imposes checks on goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland as a way of avoiding a hard border being created on the island of Ireland.

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Johnson wants the EU to renegotiate the protocol that he agreed to in 2019 and create a check-free “green channel” for goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland not destined for the EU.

“What we have done with the withdrawal agreement, including the protocol, was a sign of unity of the European Union and a practical approach to solving issues,” said Mr Amendola.

He described the proposed UK legislation to override parts of the protocol signed by Mr Johnson as an “international breach” of law and that the EU would remain united against it, just as they had remained united in support of the protocol that Mr Johnson agreed three years ago.

“We have always moved all together at a European level — calm, firm but united,” he said.

“Europe will answer unanimously again.”

Trade border

Speaking ahead of travelling to Belfast today, the minister said that Northern Ireland remaining in the EU single market was “a plus for Northern Ireland” and that it had benefited from the deal.

Mr Amendola said the EU would not insist on a trade border on the island of Ireland to protect the single market should the UK not impose the checks as required under the protocol.

The EU’s support for the Belfast Agreement, the 1998 deal underpinning the Northern Ireland peace process, meant that there would be “no border” on the island of Ireland, he said.

“That is the main reason why we are calm because we can see practically and pragmatically that the only way for this to work was signed by Boris Johnson in the agreement in 2019,” he said.

There was “never a feeling of revenge for the Brexit decision” in the EU’s response to the UK’s exit but to come up with practical solutions knowing the EU’s single market rules, he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Amendola said Italy had cut its gas dependence on Russia from 40 per cent to 25 per cent since the invasion of Ukraine by sourcing alternative supplies in the Mediterranean and Africa. Italy planned to reduce this to zero by next year and was also recommending that EU member states put a limit on the price of gas imports from Russia to help curb inflation, he said.

“We don’t want to give all this money to the Kremlin to fuel the war,” he said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent