Britain is sending a “terrible signal around the world” by intentionally heightening tensions rather than being honest with the EU over post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.
Speaking after a joint denunciation by Ireland and Germany of Boris Johnson’s bid to scrap the Northern Ireland protocol that his government had negotiated with the EU, Mr Coveney said most European countries were of the one view.
“If you listen to any European capital, whether it is Paris, Prague, Warsaw or Madrid, they are all saying the same thing to the UK: Don’t break international law,” Mr Coveney said.
“Certainly not at this time when we are trying to hold Russia to account under international law. There is a way forward under negotiation. The EU has shown its willingness to compromise.”
London’s claims that it was forced into breaching the protocol - designed to prevent a hard border in Ireland after the UK pulled out of the EU - do not “hold any water” given it had snubbed negotiations since February, Mr Coveney said.
“Progress has been stalled for a number of months now,” he said.
“The British government hasn’t engaged in serious negotiations since February 11th… That is the truth. Which is why when the British government now says it has exhausted negotiations, we are getting nowhere, therefore we have to act unilaterally with our own legislation - that argument just doesn’t hold any water, when it has not even attempted to negotiate since February.”
Progress can only be achieved “if the British government comes back and starts talking to the EU in a way that is honest and realistic, as opposed to effectively saying: Give us what we want or we’re going to legislate to take it anyway and break international law to do that.”
“That is sending a terrible signal around the world in terms of what this British government stands for,” he told RTÉ's This Week.
The EU and Ireland recognise problems with the protocol and “that the unionist community in Northern Ireland have legitimate grievances that can be responded to through flexibility and pragmatism”, he added.
A joint denunciation by the Irish and German governments in the Observer newspaper on Sunday warned Mr Johnson there was “no legal or political justification” for his plans to override the Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland.
With senior figures already warning the UK prime minister that he risks the break-up of the union by ploughing ahead with the plan, Mr Coveney and his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock made a rare joint statement condemning the UK for “unilaterally breaking an international agreement”.
The two ministers say that recent elections to Northern Ireland’s assembly, which delivered a majority of members who back the protocol, showed support for the current arrangements. They add that the EU had been and would continue to be “flexible and creative” to deal with issues that have hampered trade between the Northern Ireland and Britain.
“In these difficult times, as Russia is leading a ruthless war in Ukraine, breaking with our European peace order, the EU and UK must stand together as partners with shared values and a commitment to uphold and strengthen the rules-based international order,” they write.
The intervention shows a co-ordinated effort within the EU to back Ireland in the dispute, as well as a hardening of Germany’s position on Brexit with the arrival of the new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz. It will intensify concerns that Mr Johnson’s decision to press ahead with the Northern Ireland protocol bill, which many legal experts believe breaches international law, will trigger a trade war with the EU as inflation continues to hit.
While the UK’s proposals passed their latest parliamentary vote last week, more than 70 Conservative MPs abstained or were given permission to miss the vote. The proposals were also criticised as breaching international law by former British prime minister Theresa May. - Additional reporting Guardian