DUBLIN: Ireland’s foreign minister on Wednesday (May 11) said the UK risked a breach of international law if it scraps the trade rules it signed with the EU for Northern Ireland.
Simon Coveney said the UK’s latest threats to pull the Northern Ireland Protocol had caused consternation in Brussels, as he met leaders in the British province.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said late on Thursday that the government “will not shy away from taking action to stabilise the situation in Northern Ireland if solutions cannot be found” to key sticking points.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said his government needed to protect the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended three decades of sectarian violence over British rule in Northern Ireland.
“That is crucial for the stability of our country of the UK, of Northern Ireland,” he said, adding that new arrangements needed to “command across community support”.
“Plainly the Northern Ireland Protocol fails to do that and we need to sort it out.”
Coveney said Truss’ comments had “gone down really badly across the European Union” and rejected London’s claims that Brussels was being inflexible over its implementation.
“The (European) Commission has been showing a willingness to compromise,” he told reporters.
“What they are hearing and seeing from London is a rejection of that approach, towards a breach of international law.”
The protocol was signed separately from the Brexit trade deal between London and Brussels because Northern Ireland has the country’s only land border with the EU.
It keeps the province largely in the European single market and customs union but mandates checks on goods coming to the province from Great Britain – England, Scotland and Wales.
The checks are designed to prevent a return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, which was a flashpoint in the years of violence.
But the pro-UK Democratic Unionists Party say by creating a de facto border in the Irish Sea, Northern Ireland risks being cut adrift from the rest of the UK.
It is refusing to join a new power-sharing government in Belfast until the protocol is scrapped or overhauled.
Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, who is set to be Northern Ireland’s first nationalist first minister after elections last week, said after meeting Coveney: “The protocol is here to stay.
“There are ways to smooth its implementation, and we are certainly up for that, but the rhetoric from the British government in the last number of days is serving only to pander to the DUP,” she said.