Former taoiseach John Bruton accuses British government of 'threatening language' and being in denial over trade border in the Irish Sea
JOHN Bruton has accused the British government of using "threatening" language while "pretending" that it did not sign-up to a trade border in the Irish Sea.
Ahead of Lord Frost's appearance at a Stormont committee tomorrow, the former taoiseach told The Irish News that the Brexit minister and Secretary of State Brandon Lewis were reneging on the obligations contained in an international treaty and that they were seeking to create division within the European Union.
Mr Bruton said the British government "hadn't shown the slightest hint of shame" and was "trying to transfer the entire responsibility to other people" after concerns were raised about the post-Brexit trade arrangements.
The fomer Fine Gael leader's stinging criticism is seen as all the more significant given that he has long been regarded as someone sympathetic to unionist concerns.
However, an article penned jointly by Lord Frost and Mr Lewis last weekend triggered a robust response from 74-year-old former taoiseach, who served as the EU's ambassador to the United States from 2004-09.
In the piece for Saturday's Irish Times, the senior British government representatives said the EU's extension of the grace period on chilled meats was welcome but that it addressed “only a small part of the underlying problem”, claiming the “process to resolve all these difficulties” was “creating a series of rolling crises as we lurch from one deadline to another”.
The article said the UK needs “constructive and ambitious discussion with the EU which deal with the actual reality”. It said “opposition is growing” in the north against the protocol, which “is not a stable basis for the future”.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the piece was another attempt lay blame for the protocol at the EU’s door and accused Lord Frost and Mr Lewis of stoking political sensitivities in the north.
Speaking yesterday Mr Bruton described the article as "menacing".
"If you’re a big country and you’re saying in the newspapers of a smaller country that if you don’t get satisfaction then you’ll have to contemplate other steps and you choose to do that in the newspaper of the smaller country, then that language in of itself is threatening," he said.
He said the UK was "trying to do is introduce fudge and a lack of clarity" in the administration of the protocol, which he described as "unacceptable behaviour for a sovereign country".
"The UK’s whole thesis is that they are a sovereign country, well sovereignty has responsibilities as well as privileges and one of the responsibilities of sovereignty is that if you your word you keep it – that’s what sovereignty means," the former Fine Gael leader said.
"The UK has entered into a treaty obligation and it needs to abide by that, rather than thumping the table and try to blame the other side for it agreed to itself – they are attempting to pretend that this is something that was imposed upon them, when it wasn’t."
Mr Bruton said he wanted to avoid inflammatory language but urged the British government to "ask themselves 'are we being true to our word'?"
"Everybody makes mistakes and maybe gives commitments they can’t keep but if they do that then they should at least have the modesty to admit they’ve made a mistake and try to work it out in a spirit that recognises they’ve made a mistake and that has made a difficulty for the other side.
"But that’s the opposite of what is actually happening now – they are saying the protocol is something that has been imposed on them by the EU – which is manifestly untrue. They’re saying that the protocol doesn’t actually mean what it says if you read it in black and white."
The former taoiseach said the UK was "trying to divide the EU and create divisions between European countries" in order to the undermine the European Single Market and discredit the withdrawal treaty, which was ratified at Westminster.
"If they’re not happy with the protocol, it’s their protocol, their agreement yet they are trying to transfer the entire responsibility to other people," he said.
"Now for of country with the sort of proud history like the United Kingdom, this is very surprising that they wouldn’t have respect for their own word once given, as they ought to have."