European Leaders Warn UK Against Action on Northern Ireland Customs Checks
© AP Photo / Peter MorrisonA woman walks past past graffiti with the words 'No Irish Sea Border' in Belfast city centre, Northern Ireland, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021
© AP Photo / Peter Morrison
As part of the 2020 post-Brexit trade deal, the EU demanded guarantees that British goods would not be able to cross land border into member-state Ireland without customs checks. The final agreement allowed Brussels to impose customs checks on goods shipped to Northern Ireland from the mainland.
European Union (EU) leaders have warned the UK against using Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol to maintain unimpeded trade with the mainland.
European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said on Tuesday he had "significant concerns" about Downing Street activating the mutually-agreed section of the protocol that allows either party to make changes if trade or social cohesion are disrupted.
"First, because the Protocol is the solution agreed between the EU and the UK to address the challenges posed by the UK's withdrawal from the EU for the island of Ireland, and to protect the hard-earned gains of the peace process," Sefcovic claimed.
"Second, because the Protocol is an international agreement signed by the EU and the UK. Unilateral actions contradicting an international agreement are not acceptable, he continued. "Third, because the Withdrawal Agreement and its Protocol are the necessary foundation for the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which the EU and the UK have agreed upon to organise their overall relationship after the UK's withdrawal."
Earlier, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Parliament that the EU's application of the protocol was jeopardising the Good Friday Agreement and the formation of a new power-sharing administration.
The UK is not threatening to impose a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the north, a move Dublin and republican parties say would breach the Belfast peace accord.
But during negotiations for the 2020 post-Brexit trade deal, Brussels demanded guarantees that British goods would not be able to cross land border — mainly used by local traffic — into EU-member Ireland without customs checks. The final deal kept Northern Ireland remain in the EU's Common Market, allowing it to insist on a customs border down the Irish Sea.
"Should the UK decide to move ahead with a bill disapplying constitutive elements of the Protocol as announced today by the UK government, the EU will need to respond with all measures at its disposal," Sefkovic warned.
But he claimed to share the British government's stated aim of finding "joint solutions within the framework of the Protocol" after months of refusing to negotiate with London.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who repeatedly threatened to impose a hard border with the north during Brexit talks, also expressed "concern".
"The path chosen by the British government is of great concern," Coveney said, warning that "unilateral action" was "damaging to trust and will serve only to make it more challenging to find solutions to the genuine concerns that people in Northern Ireland have about how the protocol is being implemented".
He added that the British legislation "undermines political stability and confidence in Northern Ireland's economy" and was "contrary to the wishes of people and business in Northern Ireland".