Northern Ireland Protocol dispute heats up again

13 May 2022

With the renewed threat of the UK Government legislating domestically to undermine the Northern Ireland Protocol of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, the EU and the UK Government accused each other of “showing flexibility” and undermining the province’s economic and political cohesion. 

In their first talks since the Sinn Féin’s win in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections and Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech which didn’t include the rumoured legislation on Northern Ireland, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič warned over his continued “serious concern that the UK Government intends to embark on the path of unilateral action.” 

As in previous meetings, he again reiterated that the Northern Ireland Protocol forms an inherent part of an international treaty, saying that “unilateral action […] is simply not acceptable.” Responding to UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’ accusations that the EU would be “intransigent” and failed to show “flexibility”, he argued that “most recently, in February, we proposed to the UK Government an ambitious calendar for intensive discussions on the outstanding practical issues raised by people and businesses in Northern Ireland. […] We are still awaiting the response from the UK side.”

Ms. Truss, meanwhile, expressed her “regret” over the EU’s unwillingness to compromise on the post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, saying that the situation in Northern Ireland “is a matter of internal peace and security for the United Kingdom.”

Referencing the mooted domestic legislation which is said to have been signed off by the UK Attorney General on Thursday, she also warned that “if the EU would not show the requisite flexibility to help solve [the trading] issues, then as a responsible Government we would have no choice but to act.” 

The threat comes as the DUP has in recent days escalated its threat to not support either the new Northern Ireland Executive, nor the Assembly, leaving the province effectively without a working Government or functioning Parliament.