Brexit: Maros Sefcovic warns UK over Northern Ireland Protocol
US Democratic Congressman Brendan Boyle was speaking after attending a meeting of the US Congress’ influential Irish-American caucus on the issue on Wednesday. The meeting was addressed by EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.
There are many members of Congress who share my deep concern at the wanton disregard for international law being displayed by some in London
The European Union last week said it would take legal action after the British government unilaterally extended a grace period for checks on food imports to Northern Ireland, a move which Brussels claims violates the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.
The British Government insists the measures are necessary and proportionate and do no such thing.
Mr Boyle, a member of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, which has responsibility for US trade deals, told Irish broadcaster RTE: “There are many members of Congress, and they were on the call yesterday, who share my deep concern and real shock at the wanton disregard for international law being displayed by some in London.
President Joe Biden has already warned Boris Johnson about Northern Ireland
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Foreign Minister
“Certainly the continued provocations around the Northern Ireland Protocol, obviously make it very difficult to commence a US-UK trade deal.”
The fate of Northern Ireland, closely watched by the Biden administration, has been the most bitterly contested Brexit issue.
While campaigning prior to last year’s Presidential election, Mr Biden warned Britain that it must honour Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement as it withdrew from the EU, stressing that otherwise, there could be no separate US trade deal.
On Wednesday, Richard Neal, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, told the BBC Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent move had “bothered” many in Congress due to its unilateral nature, which he said threatened the goodwill established by the 1998 deal.
Maros Sefcovic joined Mr Coveney in the US
The UK Government announced last week that it was unilaterally extending a series of grace periods, which limit protocol red tape, to allow businesses in Northern Ireland more time to adapt to the new rules.
The European Union is set to launch legal action against the UK this week.
Mr Coveney said he and Mr Sefcovic told the group of tensions around the Northern Ireland Protocol as well as the “divisions and polarisation” of politics in Northern Ireland.
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Congressman Brendan Boyle
Congressman Richard Neal
He added it has caused a strain on the relationship between the EU and the British Government.
Mr Coveney told RTE Morning Ireland on Thursday: “We talked for about an hour-and-a-half about the protocol, its implementation, the tensions around that, the mistakes that have been made by both sides.
“The need to try to re-engage in discussion, because without finding a way forward through dialogue, which of course has to be the preference for everybody, then Maros Sefcovic outlined that the EU side really has no option but to take legal action, which will begin this week.”
Post-Brexit customs arrangements
Mr Coveney said politics is “very strained” in Northern Ireland because of perceptions around the protocol and its implementation.
“My job is to ensure that what has been agreed, as a mechanism to deal with the disruption that Brexit causes on the island of Ireland, which is the protocol, is part of an international treaty, as part of international law,” Mr Coveney added.
“Last December, Maros Sefcovic and Michael Gove, who is a very senior person in the British Government, agreed an implementation plan and an approach to implement the protocol, and we are simply saying that we need to ensure that that happens now.
US President Joe Biden
“Of course, the EU has been considering and will consider further if flexibilities need to be accommodated, if there are genuine problems in terms of implementation, how we solve them.
“But that has got to be done collectively between the EU and the UK.
“We cannot move forward on the basis of one side just deciding unilaterally ‘Well, this is what must be done and we can’t wait for the other sides to agree with us’, and that’s essentially what the British Government has done.”
Mr Coveney said the European Commission feels it has no option but to take legal action to the European Court of Justice.