Arriving at today’s Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg (18 October), Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the Commission package sends a very clear signal to Northern Ireland that the EU is listening, and is genuinely trying to use the maximum possible flexibility within the confines of the protocol to solve problems.
Coveney recognized the major move made by the European Commission in trying to resolve issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol. He said that the package of measures proposed by Vice President Maroš Šefčovič had been warmly welcomed by the business community in Northern Ireland and was a genuine and real effort to resolve practical issues on the ground.
He said that the package goes beyond many people’s expectations in responding to real interruptions to trade on goods coming from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, reducing checks on food products by 80%, and customs checks by 50%, in addition to a new structure in place to improve dialogue and communications to ensure that Northern Ireland is very much involved in plans for the future and how the protocol functions.
“Unfortunately, the British government’s statements in the first half of last week before the Šefčovič announcement were really not helpful. [The British government] was trying to move the political challenge away from solving practical problems on the ground to a new problem concerning the ECJ”. The issue of the European Court’s oversight of the Single Market in goods that Northern Ireland continues to enjoy, had not been raised with the Commission until recently. The recent demand has put the UK’s integrity into question.
Coveney said the British government has obligations under international law to comply with the treaty that they themselves designed, ratified and now need to implement.
On Friday (15 October), European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič hosted Lord David Frost in Brussels. Šefčovič welcomed that both sides have agreed to engage intensively and constructively at both expert and political level, with a set of meetings scheduled this week in Brussels with the UK team. The EU wants to focus on the areas that matter most to Northern Irish people and businesses, and where common solutions are possible. He said: “Swift joint solutions would bring the stability, certainty and predictability that Northern Ireland deserves, ultimately protecting the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions.”
Lord Frost issued a statement recognizing the efforts Vice President Šefčovič and underlined that he would discuss them constructively and in a positive spirit. However Frost continues to argue that the Withdrawal Agreement he negotiated at the end of 2019 should be changed to reflect the UK’s new issues.