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UK for a ‘very difficult summer’ if it cancels Northern Ireland Protocol – POLITICO

Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney has warned the UK government not to disapply elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol, warning of a ‘very difficult summer’ if London takes unilateral action on part of the Brexit trade deal.

Speaking to POLITICO’s Brussels Playbook ahead of Monday’s meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Coveney warned: “My message to the UK government is crystal clear – to act unilaterally to break international law, to disregard the democratic decisions in Northern Ireland, would be making things much worse, not better, in trying to solve the problems of protocol. »

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson travels to Belfast on Monday to meet political party leaders, following the Democratic Unionist Party’s refusal to help form a power-sharing government unless its protocol concerns are addressed . Johnson said on Sunday evening that the UK would unveil its “next steps” on the Northern Ireland protocol “in the coming days”, referring to domestic legislation to override parts of the deal.

In a Belfast Telegraph op-ed on the eve of his trip, Johnson insisted the UK would “always keep the door wide open for real dialogue”, but warned he would be faced with a “need to ‘act’ if a change in the block’s position on the protocol (beyond the one it launched last October) is not forthcoming.

give and take

Speaking about the threat of EU trade retaliation against any unilateral action by the UK, the Irish minister said Brussels first wanted to find solutions to the ongoing protocol issues. Experts also say any commercial retaliation from Brussels would be far off. But Coveney warned the consequences of unilateral action would be “a very difficult summer” and “unnecessary division and tension”.

“The last thing the EU needs or wants right now is tension with the UK,” he said, noting recent cooperation over Ukraine. “But if the UK government decides to go ahead with unilateral action which will not reflect majority opinion in Northern Ireland, that will of course be a huge problem for the EU,” he said. he added, noting that 53 of the 90 MPs elected in the recent elections in Northern Ireland support the protocol.

Coveney said the EU was ready to meet the main demand of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland: to reduce controls on goods entering the region from Britain. But to do that it needs better access than it currently has to relevant UK data on goods from Britain, something EU Commissioner Maros Šefčovič suggested last week.

Better data access could unlock a key problem, Coveney said. Through “full labeling and real-time sharing of supply chain data…I think the EU can remove a significant number of checks on goods that we can show are staying in Northern Ireland. North and pose no risk to the EU single market”. he said.

Although there has been more data sharing by the UK in recent weeks than before, he said, “real-time data from trusted state sources in the UK, as opposed to private companies, are what is needed if the EU is to move away from relying on many controls and looking for other ways to manage risk.”

The need for consent

Coveney has also challenged a key UK government argument in recent weeks – that the protocol undermines the principle of consent enshrined in the Good Friday peace accord.

“People misinterpret – whether it’s deliberate or not, it’s up to others to decide – what the principle of consent is,” he said, noting that he refers to the future question. of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. There is also the concept of cross-community support of nationalists and trade unionists, which is required for many national legislations, he noted.

“The problem around the protocol is about the issues between the UK government and the European Commission, which means cross-community consent doesn’t really apply. But that said, I would be the first to agree that we need to respond globally if we do. we can meet the needs of the trade union community, and these are real concerns.

Coveney is due to meet Šefčovič on Monday, as well as talks with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. The EU Council working group on the UK is meeting on Tuesday, while Šefčovič will brief EU ambassadors on progress on Wednesday.

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