EU erupts at Lord Frost’s ‘pathetic diplomatic games’ as Brexit row reaches breaking point

Micheál Martin discusses Northern Ireland Protocol

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The Northern Ireland protocol is aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland by effectively keeping the region in the EU’s single market for goods. But following the extension of a grace period on chilled meats to avoid a so-called “sausage war” last week, Brexit Minister Lord Frost said the UK Government was concerned that the EU would just “lurch from date to date, and crisis to crisis” to find “sticking plaster fixes” that “never deal with the underlying problem” on the Protocol.

In a joint article in the Irish Times on Saturday, Lord Frost and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis also said the extension of the grace period on chilled meats was “welcome” but added that it “addresses only a small part of the underlying problem”.

They warned the deal risks “damage” to the Good Friday Agreement, which in 1998 helped to secure peace after decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, unless a “new balance” is found in terms of customs checks.

Today, the EU expressed a stricter tone with a Brussels source saying the comments had “caused some concern” among bloc members.

They added: “We offered the grace period extension with strict conditions which we hope are followed.

“We also hope Britain will engage cooperatively with us in bringing forward a wider agreement on animal and plant health checks for goods arriving into Northern Ireland from the UK.

“With this in mind, it is not helpful to see comments which accuse us of simply offering a ‘plaster fix’ and creating a ‘crisis’ over the Protocol.

“We will engage with the UK at all levels but we are not here to play pathetic diplomatic games with Britain on such an important matter.”

Brussels has also claimed the UK is still showing no signs that it will fully implement the Protocol and refused to rule out continuing legal action if the UK acts unilaterally in relation to the Protocol.

Citing one example, officials say Britain is still not committed to building infrastructure at ports designed to facilitate checks on food and live animals.

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney also criticised the British Government for failing to acknowledge EU concessions given on the protocol.

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He told RTE’s This Week: “This is a week when the EU has moved, has shown generosity, has responded to requests from the British Government and from leaders in Northern Ireland.

“And at the same time, the British Government shows no generosity at all, in terms of even acknowledging that there were advances this week that could build trust and relationships.”

The potential prohibition on chilled meats from Great Britain is one result of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has created a series of economic barriers on Irish Sea trade.

Shipments of chilled meats from third countries into the single market are generally banned – a prohibition which will eventually cover the rest of the UK unless a lasting solution is found, despite the agreement of a three month grace period last week.

Last week, the EU also changed its rules to allow medicines to continue to flow from the UK into Northern Ireland and waived the obligation to show the motor insurance green card for drivers from the UK.

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Despite this, UK Cabinet ministers turned up their rhetoric in a bid to push Brussels into further concessions by warning of possible disruption to peace in the region.

The Protocol is deeply unpopular with unionist and loyalists as it creates a trade border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and means EU rules governing trade in goods still apply in the region.

Unionist anger at the Protocol comes as bonfires are being built in loyalist areas across Northern Ireland ahead of the annual July 12 parades, and concern that this year’s events could become volatile amid the ongoing tension.

Politicians clashed today in Stormont after Alliance Party MLA Stewart Dickson said the Protocol brought “incredible opportunities for Northern Ireland.”

But Christopher Stalford, DUP member for South Belfast said: “I will not sell my birthright for any mess of European Union pottage.

“It [the Protocol] is not purely an economic issue; it is a constitutional issue.

“The constitutional position of Northern Ireland has been fundamentally undermined and threatened by the protocol.

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“Northern Ireland is being used as a political football by the European Union, and the European Union’s cheerleaders in Northern Ireland should take ownership of that fact.

“They argued for the provisions of the protocol.

“The protocol does not need to be amended; it needs to go, because it is impacting on the lives of our people in a negative way.”

A UK Government spokesperson added: “This is not about concessions.

“It is about finding sustainable arrangements for Northern Ireland and protecting the Belfast Agreement in all its dimensions.

“The UK Government has provided nearly £500million this year to support businesses moving goods under the protocol and we are committed to working consensually with the EU to resolve the issues which are causing significant disruption on the ground.

“We will consider all options available if solutions cannot be found, because our overriding responsibility is to support peace, prosperity and stability in Northern Ireland.”

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