Northern Ireland news

Taoiseach Micheál Martin calls for EU and UK government to 'cool it' over protocol row

Micheál Martin indicated that any extension to the protocol grace period could only be for a matter of months. Picture by Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

THE TAOISEACH has urged both the British government and the EU's most powerful member states to "cool it" and moderate their rhetoric as efforts to overcome the difficulties around the protocol continue.

Micheál Martin voiced concern about the "post-Brexit noise" that characterised relations between some EU administrations and the UK.

The Fianna Fáil leader was speaking before last night's meeting between European Commission vice president Maroš Šef?ovi? and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.

He urged what he termed the "bigger beasts of the EU" to be less combative in their attitude to London.

"I worry a bit about the post-Brexit noise from EU member states towards Britain and vice versa," he told the BBC.

"I would tell one or two of them that they need to cool it, dial it down."

The taoiseach warned that Ireland would be the "collateral damage" in any fallout between Brussels and the British government.

Mr Martin indicated that any extension to the protocol grace period could only be for a matter of months, saying: "It can't be a year."

He voiced scepticism over the severity of alleged loyalist threats to staff at ports in the north.

"I don't think the threats were as real perhaps, as might have been suggested, but you can see how it can tip over very quickly, and therefore we have to be very, very vigilant that it doesn't," he said.

As efforts to iron out initial difficulties with the implementation of the protocol continued, Arlene Foster said its more rigorous implementation was not a solution.

She said the necessary consensus in the north to secure progress was lacking.

"I am just sorry that the EU have decided...the answer to the difficulties is more protocol and more rigorous implementation – I think that is not going to work," the DUP leader said.

She warned there was "very little time" to deal with protocol problems and that April 1 when the grace period expires was a "cliff edge".

The first minister said the "east-west dimension" of the Good Friday Agreement had been damaged by the Irish Sea border.

Sinn Féin Finance Minister Conor Murphy said some of the problems with post-Brexit trade were caused by companies in Britain being ill-prepared for the new arrangements.

"I think the root cause of all of this is the decision to leave the EU," he said.

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