Platform:The time has come for the UK to sit down with the EU and discuss protocol proposals in good faith - Neale Richmond, TD
FOR the past five years of Brexit shenanigans, the EU has made it clear that they will protect Ireland and Northern Ireland from the worst impact of Brexit and this week's proposals on the Northern Ireland Protocol from Commission Vice President Maroš Šef?ovi? is further proof of this commitment.
This comes as the latest Brexit development in a week when we have seen the British Government attempt to unilaterally rip up the Northern Ireland Protocol and suggest their own legal text. Considering that it was this British Government that negotiated every line of the Protocol, endorsed it and sold it to the British public as a positive step for Britain, this was a bizarre step in the wrong direction; proving only to further compound existing concerns regarding the British Government's commitment to their responsibilities in international law.
What we saw from Vice President Šef?ovi? this week was a set of hugely generous proposals that would transform the Protocol, resulting in 80 per cent less SPS checks on goods entering Northern Ireland and half of the customs formalities removed on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
This is on the back of extensive engagement between the EU and businesses and the people of Northern Ireland, listening to their concerns, taking them on board and presenting practical solutions to address them. Contrary to what the UK Government may believe, these concerns from Northern Ireland businesses related to practical issues with accessing goods, not regarding the role of the European Court of Justice.
The people and businesses of Northern Ireland know that to retain their access to the EU Single Market, the ECJ must play a role.
The UK Government would do well to seriously consider these proposals which will ensure stability and prosperity for Northern Ireland. To have access to both the EU Single Market and the UK internal market is a huge opportunity for Northern Ireland and must be taken seriously. The potential this access brings for businesses cannot be understated.
Lord Frost reiterated this week that his Government may choose to invoke Article 16 of the Protocol due to their, “responsibility to safeguard peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland.” Considering that triggering Article 16 does not remove the Protocol, does not allow for unilateral action but instead launches a series of negotiations and talks, this would be a pointless exercise that would do absolutely nothing for Northern Ireland but risk serious harm.
In fact, If the UK Government did choose to trigger Article 16, the EU are entitled to respond with “rebalancing measures,” and vice versa. This likely would include legal action from the EU but could also lead to a rise in tariffs on UK goods in the EU, causing further disruption for both the EU and UK. It would be an entirely pointless exercise.
At this point there is no place for political posturing and ramping up rhetoric, the time has come to put egos aside and deal with the issues as they arise and do our best to address them. This is precisely what the EU has done this week, going above and beyond to address the concerns on the ground in Northern Ireland. the UK Government claim to be protecting Northern Ireland, protecting the Good Friday Agreement but we have seen little proof of this.
The time has come for the Lord Frost and Vice-President Šef?ovi? to sit down and discuss these proposals seriously and in good faith. This is the least the people and businesses of Northern Ireland deserve after being subject to Brexit in the first instance. There may be no such thing as a good Brexit, but an improved Brexit is up for grabs if the UK are willing to take a seat at the table.