Arlene Foster has hit out after European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said the Northern Ireland Protocol is the “only way” to protect the Good Friday Agreement.
uropean Commission president Ursula von der Leyen earlier apologised for “mistakes” that led to the triggering of Article 16, which overrides part of the protocol which prevents a hard border.
However Mr Sefcovic has made it clear in his letter that the commission regards the protocol as the only way forward.
In a letter to Mr Gove on the eve of their meeting in London today, Mr Sefcovic wrote: “The protocol is the solution agreed by the UK and the EU to these challenges: it is the only way to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement, preserving peace and stability and avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.
He added “that our shared objective is to work tirelessly in order to make the protocol work. It requires full and faithful implementation by both parties”.
“The Union’s commitment to the objectives of the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, as a cornerstone of both the Withdrawal Agreement and the relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom, is unwavering.”
First Minister Mrs Foster accused Mr Sefcovic of “putting his head in the sand” at a meeting over the protocol last week.
Mrs Foster told ITV’s Peston: “I wasn’t surprised because I sat in on the meeting between Michael Gove and Maros Sefcovic last week and it really was an occasion of putting his head in the sand and his fingers in his ears.
“There was complete as if nothing had happened the Friday before in terms of the Article 16 triggering by the European Commission and that we should just all move along and pretend that it hadn’t happened.
“But worse than that in his response actually to Michael Gove this evening he is actually asking for more protocols.
“So the answer to the difficulties with the protocol and the fact that we have this real problem for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in other words internally in the UK single market, is actually more protocol — we need to be tighter on the protocol — and I think that that is an incredible state of affairs.”
A UK Government spokesperson said it was “disappointing” that the Commission had “failed to acknowledge the shock and anger felt right across the community in Northern Ireland from its decision to trigger Article 16, and the need to take urgent steps to restore confidence as a result”.
Meanwhile, staff from Stormont’s Agriculture Department have returned to their posts conducting post-Brexit trade checks.
Inspections at Belfast and Larne ports were suspended recently amid concerns for the safety of staff.
One police car was parked outside the facility in Belfast Harbour yesterday.
Former Stormont agriculture minister Edwin Poots had ordered the suspension of checks shortly before stepping down for medical treatment.
The PSNI has since said there was no evidence of “credible threats”.