Brexit: Northern Ireland 'being used as a plaything' says Poots
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Officials from both sides are due to hold showdown talks over the issue next week in London. But Brussels now fears meeting will end up in a row over the UK’s efforts to delay implementation of the Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland instead of finding solutions to ease tensions in the region. It had been hoped Brexit minister Lord Frost and EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic could be able to finally make a breakthrough after months of bitter wrangling.
Mr Sefcovic, the EU’s chief on the Brexit Joint Committee, has told envoys that the European Commission is running out of patience and could slap Britain with tougher retaliatory measures unless London changes its tone.
Lord Frost has repeatedly argued the EU has to show more pragmatism to ensure businesses and citizens in Northern Ireland are not disrupted by the Protocol.
To avoid a hard border, the region essentially remains inside the EU’s single market, meaning there are now a number of customs controls on shipments from the rest of the UK.
Earlier this year Downing Street scrapped a number of the trade checks amid concerns that supermarkets could face a supply crisis.
The move has alarmed EU insiders, who say they are growing wary of Britain’s tactics in the negotiations over the Brexit border fix.
One diplomat told RTE: “We can’t let the UK destroy the Protocol with a thousand cuts.
“If they continue on like this, bit by bit, it will wear away, and they will end up with permanent derogations – or they think they will.”
EU officials had hoped months of technical talks with British counterparts would have found solutions to 25 unresolved issues.
They now consider Britain is trying to leave Brussels and Dublin entirely responsible for “fixing” the protocol.
Ireland has followed Brussels calls for the UK to align itself to EU rules to avoid many of the customs checks on British goods exported to Northern Ireland.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said following Brussels’ rules on food safety and animal health would make the controls between GB and NI “as light as possible”.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: “The EU side is open to making it work.
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“Now is the moment for real political leadership.”
Mr Coveney blamed the “type of Brexit” negotiated by the Government for recent tensions in Northern Ireland, which included a spate of violent riots.
“The UK’s choice of a ‘hard’ Brexit created many challenges, not least for the people of Northern Ireland, who voted 56 percent to 44 percent to Remain in the Brexit referendum,” he claimed.
“As the creation of the Protocol was a joint effort, so must its implementation be. The UK must show commitment to delivery and work alongside the EU.
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“However, we must also recognise that the UK’s decision to prioritise regulatory sovereignty over seamless access for its traders and exporters to the EU Single Market has consequences for Northern Ireland.”
Mr Coveney also insisted the EU had been forced to learn from its own mistake when dealing with Northern Ireland in the wake of Brexit.
The Irish minister said: “There have been mistakes made by both sides, like the widespread concern caused when the European Commission fleetingly considered using Article 16 of the Protocol.
“The EU heard those concerns and immediately reversed course within hours. In contrast, reciprocal concerns regarding the UK Government’s ongoing disregard of its legal obligations, under an agreement it negotiated and Parliament ratified, have gone unheeded.”
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