Northern Ireland protocol: UK calls for EU to show same flexibility offered to Ukraine to resolve standoff

UK will be forced to act if some of the same flexibility is not applied in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol, sources say

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Sunday 15 May 2022 22:05
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This week in politics: Starmer makes pledge and attentions return to Northern Ireland

The EU must display the same flexibility it has shown during the Ukraine crisis to resolve the standoff over the Northern Ireland protocol, government sources have said, just days before the row is set to come to a head.

Sources told The Independent that the bloc had shown enormous agility when it took in huge numbers of people almost overnight after Russia invaded Ukraine.

But they added that the UK would be forced to act if some of the same flexibility and creativity were not applied in relation to the protocol, which ministers insist is threatening the Belfast peace process.

Despite warnings that the move would break international law and could lead to a trade war with the EU, ministers are this week expected to push ahead and publish legislation that would allow the government to unilaterally modify part of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.

Senior EU figures have warned that a solution will not be found while the UK is threatening to tear up the treaty.

Ireland’s foreign minister also took the extraordinary step of calling on members of Mr Johnson’s government to intervene to urge the prime minister to pull back from the brink.

Simon Coveney urged influential voices within the UK government to caution the prime minister to cooperate with the EU to find a solution instead.

And in a separate development, Britain’s former ambassador to the EU warned that there was a “severe risk” the UK was heading into a trade war.

Sir Ivan Rogers said the idea felt like “madness” at a time when the worst conflict on European soil since the Second World War is taking place in Ukraine, and while there is a real risk of recession in both the eurozone and the UK, “but I think there is a severe risk of it happening”, he told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.

Mr Coveney is due to discuss the protocol with the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, on Monday evening, but stressed that he was ready to fly to London at short notice to find a way through the standoff. Mr Coveney said the EU wanted to be good neighbours with the UK, “solving problems together”.

“I would encourage the influencers within the UK government to ensure that’s the course they decide to take,” he told Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Sky News.

In a message to ministers, he warned: “There’s no way the EU can compromise if the UK is threatening unilateral action to pass domestic legislation to set aside international obligations under an international treaty.”

And he said the events of recent days had “forced Ireland into taking a much more strident position, and responding honestly to the unhelpful briefings that we’re getting from very, very senior levels within the British government”.

Mr Johnson is understood to be keen to take the heat out of the war of words with the EU over the issue. On a visit to Belfast on Monday he is expected to emphasise his commitment to the Northern Ireland peace process.

But he will also deliver a “tough” message to parties there that action on the protocol must lead to the resumption of the power-sharing government.

Mr Johnson has confirmed the government will this week set out plans expected to allow ministers to unilaterally scrap part of his Brexit deal.

In an editorial in the Belfast Telegraph newspaper, the prime minister said that ministers would set out more details “in the coming days”.

Shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband urged Mr Johnson not to “try and use Northern Ireland as a political weapon” but instead to “engage seriously” with the issue.

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