There will be “really significant consequences for Britain” if the UK Parliament suspends the Northern Ireland protocol, Simon Coveney has told Newstalk Breakfast.
Ireland and the EU are now actively preparing for the UK to trigger Article 16 of the protocol in the coming weeks – effectively suspending its operation.
The protocol is a key element of the Withdrawal Agreement underpinning the trade deal between the UK and the EU and there are fears the move could spark a trade war.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the move could seriously damage UK/Ireland relations.
“A lot of evidence suggests that the British Government is now preparing to trigger Article 16 after COP26 which ends this week,” he said.
“I think we need to clearly be preparing for that and thinking about the repercussions of that – because I think they would be very serious should that happen.
“That is why I and others are out now talking openly about what I think is a very significant threat to the British/Irish relationship and also the UK/EU relationship.
“The British Government should not underestimate the impact of making a decision to set aside elements of the protocol and effectively deliberately breaking an agreement that they made.”
Minister Coveney noted that the EU has taken an “extraordinarily positive” approach to talks in recent months – offering concessions on a host of issues to try and get the UK onside.
“The EU has been, really, bending over backwards to try to find solutions to problems,” he said.
“They have listened to people in Northern Ireland, business leaders there and political leaders there and each time the EU comes up with solutions … the UK banks that and says not enough, we need more and introduces new areas and new problems.”
He said there will be really significant consequences if Westminster goes back on its word and triggers Article 16.
“One of the reasons I am as blunt as I am at the moment - and the Taoiseach is as well by the way, we are very much on the same page on this - is that I think it needs to be clearly understood not only in Number Ten but also in the British Parliament that there are really significant consequences for Britain if they decide to set aside international law,” he said.
“That is essentially what they’re doing so let’s call it what it is. This isn’t setting aside an element of a protocol, which sounds like a technical issue, this is setting aside international law for political reasons.
“The other thing it is important to say is, this wasn’t just a Boris Johnson-signed agreement – although it was that also. This is an agreement that was also ratified by the British Parliament so this is the British Parliament actually allowing international law to be set aside.”
European Court of Justice
Minister Coveney said Westminster’s latest stance that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) should no longer have oversight of the protocol shows that Boris Johnson is prioritising London over Northern Ireland.
“All of a sudden, the ECJ is the main issue, which has never been an issue in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“I mean it has become an issue for some politicians in Northern Ireland because the British Government has decided to make it a central issue but as I have been saying for a number of weeks this is the British Government asking for something they know the EU can’t deliver.
“The protocol effectively is an extension of the EU single market for goods into Northern Ireland therefore EU rules need to be enforced. What the British Government are essentially asking for now is that a British court would determine EU rules as they apply in the protocol having signed up to something completely different.
“They know the EU can never agree that but they are insisting on that being the central issue now so you have to then question whether or not the British Government actually wants an agreement right now.”
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