BRUSSELS: The Irish foreign minister dismissed Monday the idea, pushed by the British government, that implementing a post-Brexit trade deal would make it harder to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Belfast on Monday to meet Northern Irish party leaders to urge them to form a new executive nearly two weeks after the province held elections.
Northern Ireland’s biggest pro-British unionist party, the DUP, has refused to resume power-sharing with the pro-Irish Sinn Fein, demanding that post-Brexit trade rules be overhauled.
Johnson has urged them to rejoin the province’s executive, while expressing sympathy with the idea that an EU-UK deal known as the “Northern Ireland protocol” be dumped or revised.
But Simon Coveney, Ireland’s minister for defence and for foreign affairs, dismissed the idea that it was the protocol that was standing in the way of reviving the Belfast executive.
“No, I don’t buy that at all,” Coveney told reporters after meeting EU vice president Maros Sefcovic in Brussels. “This is an international treaty. It’s international law.”
“This was this was a treaty that was designed and negotiated by the British government — this prime minister and the team around him — as well as the EU.”
Johnson’s government has warned it will trigger a suspension clause in the agreement — or legislate to eliminate its terms from UK law — unless the EU agrees to large-scale changes.
But Brussels and Dublin insist the protocol — which regulates trade between Great Britain, now outside the EU, and Northern Ireland, a UK province but inside the EU single market — must stay.
If Johnson goes ahead and unilaterally withdraws or sidesteps the protocol the entire post-Brexit trade deal between the 27 EU members and Britain would be at stake, they warn.
“I think the British government understand only too well what the EU will be forced into doing,” Coveney said, implying the UK would lose EU trading privileges if Johnson tears up the deal.
Coveney said that he understood there “are genuine concerns and anxiety around the protocol” in Northern Ireland’s pro-British unionist community.
“We won’t be able to do everything for everybody, but I think we can make a significant step forward if there’s compromise,” he said.
“The alternative is for the British government to go it alone, and to force the EU to respond to a breach in a treaty.”