The EU will not scrap or alter controversial Brexit border arrangements for Northern Ireland in response to “unilateral demands or threats” from London, Ireland’s foreign minister has warned.
Simon Coveney said that the Northern Ireland Protocol was a result of the negotiation stance taken by Boris Johnson, telling those who fought for a hard Brexit: “You’ve got to own the consequences of your own decisions.”
While Dublin wanted to be “helpful” in smoothing trade by the use of existing flexibilities in the agreement, DUP first minister Arlene Foster’s demand for the removal of the protocol was “unrealistic” he said.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove is demanding an extension to January 2023 of grace periods to ease the flow of goods between Northern Ireland and the British mainland, following disruption which has seen empty shelves in supermarkets and long delays for lorries at ports.
And Mr Johnson has threatened to invoke safeguard measures in Article 16 of the protocol to suspend elements of the agreement, just days after he condemned Brussels for making the same threat over the export of vaccines.
Ms Foster today called on the PM to scrap the protocol, which her party has denounced as an “unmitigated disaster” for Northern Ireland.
“The Northern Ireland Protocol has not worked, cannot work and in light of our proposals to the government, needs to be replaced,” she wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
“Indeed, across Northern Ireland there is growing anger at the current arrangements. The delicate political balance and relationships in Northern Ireland have been damaged and disturbed by the Protocol.”
Ms Foster was speaking after the UK and EU stood down some controls at Belfast and Larne ports following an “upsurge in sinister and menacing behaviour”.
But Mr Coveney told BBC Radio Ulster: “That’s unrealistic from Arlene Foster.
“This isn’t something that’s being imposed on Northern Ireland by the European Union. It’s something that was agreed and negotiated as a consequence of the kind of Brexit that the British government advocated and wanted, and was also supported in doing so by the DUP.”
Mr Coveney acknowledged that there had been “problems” with the implementation of the the arrangements, which effectively create a customs border in the Irish Sea, subjecting businesses to onerous paperwork and checks.
But he said: “The protocol isn’t going to be changed, this is about implementation and the flexibilities that are there.”
He said that the UK had failed to provide access to data on goods movements to EU observers as promised in the protocol.
In a letter to EU vice-president Maros Sefcovic ahead of a video meeting on Wednesday, Mr Gove demanded concessions including an extended grace period by the end of the week.
And Mr Johnson told the House of Commons: “We will do everything we need to do, whether legislatively or indeed by triggering Article 16 of the protocol, to ensure that there is no barrier down the Irish Sea.”
After discussions which both sides characterised as “constructive” last night, Mr Sefcovic is due to travel to London for further talks next week.
But Mr Coveney said: “The EU isn’t going to respond on the basis of unilateral demands or threats of consequences if they don’t give the British government what they want.
“There needs to be real engagement that has begun in relation to what’s possible within the parameters of the protocol.
“Certain parties have opposed the protocol from the outset, they also opposed the backstop, they also opposed the concept of sharing the customs union and the single market.
“You’ve got to own the consequences of your own decisions. If you force a certain type of Brexit, then that has consequences.
“And when the problems that all of us had been warning would flow from that kind of Brexit actually happen in reality, you’ve got to take responsibility for that.”
He added: “I’m not suggesting that there aren’t some issues that need to be resolved and some very real problems for businesses in Northern Ireland that we need to work on solutions to solve.
“But the core issue here is that this is the result of Brexit, not the result of the protocol. The protocol is about providing solutions to the disruption that Brexit actually forces on everybody.”