Brexit: Maros Sefcovic warns UK over Northern Ireland Protocol
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Paul Goodman, the editor of the Conservative Home website, was speaking at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and London over the Protocol, the agreement struck between the UK and EU with the intention of preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland. Senior Democrats in the US have voiced concern at the UK’s decision to extend for custom checks between Northern Ireland from Great Britain, a move which has prompted Brussels to launch legal action against what it regards as a breach of international law.
Mr Biden himself is on record as warning the landmark Good Friday Agreement (GFA) signed in 1998 could not become a “casualty of Brexit”.
Conversely, critics including Arlene Democratic Unionist Party leader and Northern Ireland’s First Minister, object to the Protocol, because they regard it as a border down the Irish sea.
However, Mr Goodman believes ultimately realpolitik will prevent the collapse of both the GFA and the NI Protocol.
Writing in the Times, he explained: “A hard border in the Irish Sea looks increasingly unacceptable to unionists.
“And, as recent history shows, a harder one in the island of Ireland is unacceptable to nationalists.
“That’s why the protocol exists in the first place: Ireland got its way during the negotiation that produced it.”
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Dublin had argued, with the backing of Brussels, that such a border in Ireland would threaten the GFA, Mr Goodman pointed out.
He added: “But if neither a border in the Irish Sea nor one in the island of Ireland are workable, what’s the solution?
“The answer may turn on whether the EU’s commitment to Northern Ireland’s peace is as all-embracing as it claims.
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“For, bluntly, the only alternative to a border either in the sea or on land is not to have one at all.
“Or, since Brexit has made that impossible, for the border created by the Protocol to have only the lightest of policing.”
Such an approach would be difficult for the EU to stomach, Mr Goodman acknowledged.
Nevertheless, he added: “Some ministers believe that the priority of the Irish government is less maintaining the purity of the EU single market than protecting peace in Ireland.
“If they are eventually proved right, the power of Irish America, and of the Biden administration, potentially comes into play.
“For all its green-tinged reputation, the key players in Team Biden know the intricacies of the agreement well, understand the importance of peace in Northern Ireland, and have solid strategic reasons for keeping the Johnson government on side, or at least trying to.
“And it will have noted that even Sinn Fein isn’t clamouring for the protocol’s checks to be rigorously enforced.”
Mr Goodman concluded: “Whatever may happens to it next, one thing is certain.
“The protocol’s terms have made the EU a co-owner of Northern Ireland’s future.
“If this ‘rules-based organisation’ can break the protocol to protect itself over COVID-19, it can also bend the rules to protect others from harm – in this case, the peace of Northern Ireland.”
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