By Amanda Ferguson
BELFAST -The European Union rejected a British demand to renegotiate their deal governing the trading position of Northern Ireland, saying that to so would only bring instability and uncertainty.
European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, who oversees post-Brexit EU relations with Britain, said in a speech on Friday that the Northern Ireland protocol needed to be properly implemented and that it was not the cause of problems, rather the only solution.
“A renegotiation of the protocol – as the UK government is suggesting – would mean instability, uncertainty and unpredictability in Northern Ireland,” he said, according to the text of his speech at Queen’s University in Belfast.
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, in order to preserve an open land border with EU member state Ireland. London has since said the arrangement is not working and wants it changed.
Sefcovic, on a two-day visit to the British province, said the EU was seeking solutions for all, including those opposed to the protocol.
“I know it is possible for us to work together, if rhetoric on both sides is dialled down,” he said, adding that the spirit of compromise had to be mutual.
Gavin Robinson, a member of Northern Ireland’s largest pro-British party, the Democratic Unionist Party, described Sefcovic’s comments as “belligerent”, “mistaken” and “foolish”.
Sefcovic said the EU was committed to working with Britain to overcome difficulties but any solutions could only minimise the effects of Brexit, not entirely remove them, given London’s choice to leave the EU single market and customs union.
The commissioner said the two sides should continue discussions to limit the impact of the protocol on everyday life in Northern Ireland, while maintaining its special access to the EU’s internal market.
Britain has said it wants a “normal treaty framework” that is not policed by the European Court of Justice. Sefcovic said that would effectively mean cutting Northern Ireland out of the EU single market.