Brexit deal ‘limits’ UK’s ‘ability to be sovereign’ says Beaune
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And France’s junior minister for European Affairs has also insisted the controversial arrangement must be “wholly respected” in a clear indication that either Brussels nor Paris is minded to budge on the issue. The mechanism, whereby Northern Ireland remains bound by EU rules and regulations when it comes to imports and exports, is aimed at preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland.
However, critics, especially within the unionist community, argue it has instead resulted in a border down the Irish Sea – and has consequently driven a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
In February Boris Johnson unilaterally extended a grace period for checks on food going from Britain to Northern Ireland until October, prompting the EU to initiate legal actions, arguing the move amounting to a breach of the agreement signed by the Prime Minister in December.
Speaking today, Mr Beaune said the bloc could not accept any unilateral move by Britain which threatened the integrity of the single market via the Irish border, calling it dangerous to question the Brexit deal’s Northern Ireland protocol.
This is what we expect from the United Kingdom
Speaking during a trip to Ireland, Mr Beaune explained: “This protocol must be wholly respected.
“This is what we expect from the United Kingdom.
He added: “That does not mean there cannot be flexibility and ways of applying the protocol which reduce trade friction.
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“I hope this is only a period of adjustment that we are seeing, and not a broader will to provoke the EU.”
Neither side should play with peace in Northern Ireland, Mr Beaune stressed.
Preserving the delicate peace without allowing the United Kingdom a back door into the EU’s single market via the Irish border was one of the most difficult issues of nearly four years of tortuous talks on the terms of Britain’s exit from the bloc.
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Mr Beaune was speaking on the same day as Arlene Foster met with Boris Johnson for the final time as Northern Ireland’s First Minister, having tendered her resignation last month.
Speaking outside Downing Street beforehand, she said the Prime Minister needed to “deal with” the Northern Ireland protocol which she fears will “narrow common ground” if not addressed.
She added: “I think the Prime Minister and Lord Frost have been listening, they have been putting out some very good statements in relation to dealing with the protocol.
“But now we need to see action, and we need to see action quite soon, because every day the protocol remains the way it is, there’s more damage done to Northern Ireland.”
Asked whether she felt Mr Johnson had betrayed her over the border issues, having previously pledged never to create economic barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, Mrs Foster said: “Well, look, I got into politics to make Northern Ireland a better place, to move Northern Ireland forward.
“I believe if we are to do that and continue to do that, then I think we need to deal with the protocol in a very proactive way and I hope that when I speak to the Prime Minister this morning we’ll hear more about that.”
But she was insistent that Brexit and the protocol needed to be viewed as separate issues.
She said: “I think you have to separate Brexit and the protocol. The protocol is doing the damage to Northern Ireland.
“Of course I believe in Brexit because I believe that we needed to leave the European Union and all of the stringent rules that were there, to allow us to be more flexible, to allow us to have a place in the world.
“But if the United Kingdom is to have a new place in the world, Northern Ireland must be part of that and at present, because of the protocol, we’re not.”
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