BRUSSELS – The European Union and Britain must resolve problems over Northern Ireland trading using the protocol agreed between them, the EU’s Brexit coordinator said on Wednesday, rejecting a British demand to renegotiate it.
European Commision vice-president Maros Sefcovic said on the eve of his first trip to the British province that he was “absolutely convinced” good solutions could be found within the protocol.
“Let’s focus on the concrete problem. Let’s not try to renegotiate the protocol. This is definitely not our aim and I believe that we can find the good solution to the outstanding issues,” Sefcovic told a news conference.
The commissioner, who oversees the EU’s relationship with Britain after it left the bloc, will meet Irish prime minister Micheal Martin on Wednesday and visit Northern Ireland on Thursday and Friday.
He said he aimed to establish from politicians, business people and civil society what concrete problems Brexit had caused and believed there was enough creativity and goodwill to resolve them.
Under the protocol, Britain agreed to leave some EU rules in place in Northern Ireland and accept checks on goods arriving from elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
London has since said the arrangement was not working and wants it changed.
The protocol was intended to protect the EU’s single market while avoiding checks on the border with the Irish Republic, an EU member, which would be anathema to Northern Ireland’s Catholic nationalists, many of whom aspire to a united Ireland.
But – as well as disrupting trade – the perception the protocol undermines Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom has sparked anger in pro-British Protestant communities and helped fuel street violence earlier in the year.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated his government’s stance on Wednesday, telling parliament that the protocol, as it was being applied, was not protecting the Good Friday peace agreement.
“We must sort it out,” he said.