Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheal Martin has urged the government of Boris Johnson to make the most of the current “generosity of spirit” displayed by Brussels and engage actively with the European Union to find solutions to existing problems, reports The Irish Times.
Speaking at an event in Cork city, Martin hailed the recent EU decision to extend the grace period of the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) – part of the original Brexit Withdrawal deal – allowing deliveries of chilled meat to Northern Ireland until 30 September.
“The time for warning each other is over. It’s time for engagement, constructive engagement, with a view to reaching a resolution,” said Martin on Saturday, weighing in on the post-Brexit trade dispute that had been the subject of heated debate between the two sides.
“I think the British government should acknowledge the approach of the EU this week in terms of the extension of the grace period and also in terms of the facilitation around the medicines issue. There is no question that the European Commission and the European Union leaders have demonstrated goodwill and a generosity of spirit towards the British government in resolving this issue.”
Speaking after UK cabinet ministers turned up the rhetoric on the issue, who suggested pressuring Brussels into more concessions over the Northern Ireland Protocol by warning of possible disruption to peace in the region, the Irish leader said:
“It really is time for British government to reciprocate… the sense of flexibility that Europe has indicated to the UK that it is willing to deploy, in respect of the working out of issues pertaining to the protocol.”
Martin was responding to comments made by the British Ambassador Paul Johnston on RTÉ Radio One on Saturday. The ambassador was weighing in on an Opinion piece in The Irish Times by Britain’s Brexit minister David Frost and Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis.
Johnson defended Britain’s position on the Northern Ireland protocol, rejecting accusations that it was “sabre rattling” and insisting it was a manifestation of genuine concern about the Unionist community fears about the protocol.
Micheal Martin added that he believed input from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and others in the bloc had prompted a genuine desire among EU leaders to make the Northern Ireland protocol work.
In a joint article in The Irish Times, Brexit Minister David Frost and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis hailed the extension of a grace period in the so-called “sausage war” as “welcome” but claimed it “addresses only a small part of the underlying problem.”
They said the government was working on a longer-term sustainable solution to the issue.
The ministers warned the EU that the protocol risks doing “damage” to the Good Friday Agreement, which helped secure peace after decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland 1998. In their article the politicians urged seeking a “new balance” in terms of customs checks.
‘Sausage Row’ Truce
When the UK and EU struck the Brexit deal after London decided to leave the bloc in 2016, Britain acknowledged it would no longer enjoy being in the bloc's single market, which guarantees the free movement of goods, services, and labour between its members states.
In order to honour the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement peace treaty and avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the sides agreed to let Belfast remain in the EU’s single market and conduct checks on goods on the border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK (England, Scotland, and Wales).
However, since the UK officially left the EU there have been major delivery disruptions due to checks across the Irish border, triggering tensions in Northern Ireland. Concerns have been prompted that the sectarian conflict there, which lasted almost three decades, might reignite. Unionists have been arguing that the NIP threatens Northern Ireland’s membership in the UK.
The delivery of chilled meat to Northern Ireland became a contentious issue as the EU only allows frozen meat to enter its single market.
Deliveries of unfrozen “meat preparations” (sausages and mince) from England, Scotland, and Wales to de facto EU member Northern Ireland.
In December 2020, the sides agreed to a six-month grace period to resolve the issue, but no solution was found. The UK has insisted on renegotiating the terms of the NIP, while Brussels has been strongly opposed to it.
Following a request from the UK, the EU in late June agreed to continue to allow chilled meats to be shipped to Northern Ireland from Great Britain for another three months, with the deadline set for 30 September.