The European Union rejected a British demand to renegotiate their deal governing the trading position of Northern Ireland, saying that to so would only lead to 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 was not the cause of problems, but 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. London has since said the arrangement is not working and wants it changed.
Sefcovic said the EU was committed to working with Britain to overcome difficulties, but added 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.
But the focus of these discussions should be issues that mattered most to Northern Irish people, he said, not British requests such as to remove the oversight role of the European Court of Justice.
“Doing this would effectively mean cutting Northern Ireland off the EU’s single market and related opportunities,” he said.
Photo: An image taken with a zoom lens effect shows European flags fluttering in the wind in outside the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ