DUBLIN – Ireland’s foreign minister said on Wednesday (11 May) Britain risks breaching international law if it scraps trade rules signed with the EU for Northern Ireland.
Simon Coveney said the UK’s recent threats to withdraw the Northern Ireland Protocol had sparked dismay in Brussels as he met with provincial leaders.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said late Thursday that if solutions cannot be found, the Government “will not shy away from taking action to stabilize the situation in Northern Ireland” to address key sticking points.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said his government must protect the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended three decades of sectarian violence against British rule in Northern Ireland.
“This is vital to the stability of our country of Britain, Northern Ireland,” he said, adding that new arrangements were needed to “command the support of the whole community”.
“The Northern Ireland Protocol clearly does not do this and we need to clarify that.”
Coveney said Truss’ comments “received really badly across the European Union” and dismissed London’s claims that Brussels was inflexible in implementing it.
“The (European) Commission has shown a willingness to compromise,” he told reporters.
“What you are hearing and seeing from London is a rejection of this approach to breaching international law.”
The protocol was signed separately from the Brexit trade deal between London and Brussels as Northern Ireland has the country’s only land border with the EU.
It keeps the province largely within the European Single Market and Customs Union, but mandates controls on goods entering the province from Britain – England, Scotland and Wales.
The controls are intended to prevent a return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, which has been a flash point during years of violence.
But the pro-British Democratic Unionists Party says by creating a de facto border in the Irish Sea, Northern Ireland risks being cut off from the rest of the UK.
It refuses to join a new power-sharing government in Belfast until the protocol is abolished or revised.
Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, who is set to become Northern Ireland’s first nationalist First Minister after last week’s election, said after meeting Coveney: “The protocol is here to stay.
“There are ways to facilitate its implementation and we are certainly willing to do so, but the UK government’s rhetoric over the past few days only serves to support the DUP,” she said.
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