Boris Johnson now ripping up the Good Friday Agreement
Mr Coveney was responding to a Financial Times report that said British legislation out this week will “eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement” in areas including state aid and the new customs arrangements for Northern Ireland.
In a statement, the UK government said it was working with the European Union to resolve what it called “outstanding issues” surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Without making explicit reference to the Financial Times report or specifying what the outstanding issues were, the statement stated that if those issues were not resolved “as a responsible government, we are considering fall back options in the event this is not achieved to ensure the communities of Northern Ireland are protected”.
Senior government sources would not be drawn on the Financial Times report, with one source speculating that it was part of a stepping up of “noise” by the UK as the future relationship negotiations enter a critical phase.
The source said he expected that the European Commission Brexit Task Force would seek clarification on the report.
Quoting three Whitehall sources, the report claims that sections of the upcoming Internal Market Bill would undercut key provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
These included the potential levelling of tariffs on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December, as well as the potential for EU state aid law to continue to reach into the UK if the British government subsidises companies that have significant subsidiaries in Northern Ireland.
The report claims that “clauses in the internal market and finance bills will force the UK courts to follow the new UK law rather than the EU deal, diluting the ability of the protocol to intrude on UK state aid policy.”
The paper quoted one source as saying that the force of the new legislation had been approved by the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, who “had personally driven the decision to take the ‘nuclear option’ of overwriting the withdrawal agreement, despite progress being made in talks on implementing the Irish protocol”.
Reaction to the report has been swift, with Mr Coveney issuing his response on Twitter, saying: “This would be a very unwise way to proceed.”
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the Brexit terms that Britain agreed to before formally exiting the European Union “must be respected”.
“Everything that has been signed must be respected,” Mr Barnier told France Inter radio, in response to the Financial Times report.
Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said on social media: “As the Brexit negotiations between the EU and British government enter their eighth round this week in London, any threats of a roll back on the Irish protocol would represent a treacherous betrayal which would inflict irreversible harm on the all-Ireland economy, and [Good Friday Agreement].”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “If true, this could lead to a hard border in Ireland and undermine decades of progress.
Britain’s Agriculture and Environment minister George Eustace denied the UK government intends undermining the Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland protocol.
He said the British government is committed to implementing the Withdrawal Agreement and the UK is working with the EU through the Special Committee established by the Agreement to jointly agree the specific terms of the treaty.
He said when that process ends there may be some outstanding issues – what he called “loose ends” that may need to be implemented through UK legislation.
Mr Eustace said these included the exact nature of checks required on food products entering Northern Ireland, and the type of exit declarations needed to document the movement of goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
The report coincided with a combative statement from the British Prime Minister, which said that if there was no agreement between the EU and UK before an EU summit on 15 October then a free trade deal was unlikely “and we should both accept that and move on”.
Boris Johnson added: “We will then have a trading arrangement with the EU like Australia’s.
“I want to be absolutely clear that, as we have said right from the start, that would be a good outcome for the UK. As a government we are preparing, at our borders and at our ports, to be ready for it.
“We will have full control over our laws, our rules, and our fishing waters. We will have the freedom to do trade deals with every country in the world.
“And we will prosper mightily as a result.”
What British ministers sometimes refer to as an “Australian” style free trade arrangement is generally taken as a “no deal” outcome, with both the EU and UK trading on WTO terms.
Mr Johnson said: “Even at this late stage, if the EU are ready to rethink their current positions and agree this I will be delighted.
“But we cannot and will not compromise on the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country to get it.”
The EU-UK future relationship negotiations have been deadlocked for months over fisheries, the issue of state aid and the so-called level playing field, police and judicial cooperation, and how both sides would resolve disputes in the future.
The prime minister made no reference to the Northern Ireland Protocol in his statement.
Both teams of negotiators meet in London on Tuesday for the next full round of negotiations.
Mr Barnier has set a deadline for agreement of 31 October.
With many thanks to: RTE News and Tony Connelly Europe Editor for the original story
BRITISH Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that he did not betray his former allies in the DUP by putting a regulatory border down the Irish Sea.
The Tory leader said he “did neither thing” when quizzed by The Irish News on events that led to Westminster’s support for the withdrawal agreement, which includes new regulatory checks on goods moving from Britain to the north.
DUP leader Arlene Foster previously accused Mr Johnson of breaking his word over the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.
When a guest at the DUP’s conference in 2018, the former foreign secretary insisted there would be no trade barriers between Britain and the north.
Last week, the British government unveiled plans for a £355 million package that would ease the financial burden on Northern Ireland businesses importing goods from Britain and the rest of the world.
The prime minister said yesterday there would only be a trade border in the Irish Sea “over my dead body”.
He repeated his assertion that there would be “unfettered access” for the north’s firms into markets in Britain.
Mr Johnson said he had also agreed to “intensify” partnership arrangements with the Republic and said more work could be done on bilateral deals.
But Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said the Tory leader’s claim that businesses could “tear up” any requirement for documentation had “been shown to be a sham” by last week’s announcement of Trader Support Service for cross-channel imports.
Yesterday Mr Johnson said he hoped for greater co-operation with the Republic after Britain leaves the EU.
“We did not do enough bilaterally, we did not do enough to build up the links and the kind of ideas and projects we are talking about,” he said.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said both sides knew that they needed to avoid another economic shock following Covid-19.
“I think where there’s a will, there’s a way – it seems to me that there is a landing zone if that will is there on both sides and I think it is, on the European Union side and on the British side to find that landing zone,” the Fianna Fáil leader said.
“My own gut instinct is we both understand that we don’t need another shock to the economic system that a no-deal Brexit would give or a sub-optimal trade agreement would give to our respective economies across Europe, Ireland and of course within Great Britain itself alongside the enormous shock that Covid has already given.”
Mr Martin said he and Boris Johnson also discussed travel restrictions necessitated by Covid-19.
At present, people travelling into the Republic from Great Britain need to self-isolate for 14 days. The UK does not apply the same restrictions on travellers from Ireland.
The taoiseach said the prime minister had raised the prospect of the UK introducing further travel restrictions in response to outbreaks in other countries.
“It’s a moving story every week,” said Mr Martin.
“He was outlining initiatives they will have to take in some aspects of travel related to other countries potentially.”
With many thanks to: The Irish News and John Manley for the original story
The North of Irleand will be affected in perpetuity and irrevocably by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, argues Katy Hayward
More than any other issue, Northern Ireland – a region of 1.8 million people on the periphery of the UK and the EU – has determined what has happened since the Brexit referendum for the whole of the UK and the EU.
Brexit has placed the North of Ireland at the UK/EU interface, resulting in considerable internal strain. This is not an easy position to be in – especially for a region with a pro-Remain majority, a fragile peace process and a newly restored devolved administration.
It was always the case that, if the UK wanted to exit with a deal, both sides would have to compromise over the North of Ireland. The compromise for the EU comes in the form of disaggregating its four freedoms for the North of Ireland. The latter half of the withdrawal process largely consisted of the UK deciding where its compromise would fall.
The first Withdrawal Agreement contained the so-called “backstop”, which saw the UK commit to aligning with the EU’s rules on goods and customs in order to avoid the need for checks and controls at the Irish border.
The second switched tack, with its “frontstop”, which sees Northern Ireland following the EU’s rules so Britain doesn’t have to. Of course, this, in effect, shifts the potential border controls from the default north/south on the island of Ireland to east/west between these islands.
This is a region in which it is very difficult to find common ground, so compromise was always going to be tricky to sell within the North of Ireland.
Yet, common ground for the North of Ireland’s main political parties was found shortly after the referendum, despite the fact that Sinn Fein and the DUP were at opposite poles over the topic of Brexit.
The priorities for the North of Ireland, set out by the letter from the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to Prime Minister May in August 2016, are notable.
These include the sustainability of the agri-food sector, that businesses, both indigenous and FDI companies, “retain their competitiveness and do not incur additional costs”, and that the Irish land border does not become an impediment to the movement of people, goods and services. And they still hold true.
This is seen in the New Decade, New Approach Agreement between the British and Irish Governments and the North of Ireland’s political parties, which paved the way for the restoration of devolved government after a three-year hiatus. The agreement confirmed that these priorities remain the top concerns of an incoming devolved Executive.
These priorities take on a different form in light of the new Protocol on Ireland/North of Ireland. For business in the North of Ireland, the changes and challenges associated with Brexit not only come in relation to trade with the EU, but may now emerge in relation to access to and from Britain. The North of Ireland finds itself in an extraordinary position, not only with the EU, but also within the UK internal market.
Rather than enjoying a “best of both worlds” scenario, the North of Ireland risks finding itself caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Firstly, because it will remain, in effect, part of the EU’s single market for goods and also de facto part of the EU’s customs territory (regardless of being nominally in the UK’s), then movement of goods across the Irish Sea will be directly affected by the negotiations that the UK and EU are about to begin. This means potential friction within the UK internal market and additional costs for North of Ireland businesses.
Secondly, we do not yet know whether the North of Ireland will benefit from being part of the UK’s free trade agreements, or part of the EU’s free trade agreements.
And, on top of this of course, the North of Ireland will have to navigate what all its parties agree to be the negative impacts of Brexit, including restricted access to labour, especially unskilled EU workers, and friction in the movement of services across the island of Ireland.
When combined with the tight timetable for transition, plus the scale of decisions to be made by the UK-EU Joint Committee that will uniquely impact on the North of Ireland (for example, in the designation of “at risk” goods crossing the Irish Sea), the scale of the governance and policy challenge is evident.
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill gives extraordinary power to the UK Government in the implementation of the protocol, including in areas that have long been devolved to the competence of Stormont.
Yet, ultimately, it is the North of Ireland’s Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) who will be handed an exclusive decision-making power.
Four years after the end of transition, as per the “democratic consent” mechanism of the protocol, they will vote on whether to continue to be aligned to EU rules.
Given the nature of politics here, this debate will almost inevitably be framed less as a policy/economic matter than as a constitutional/identity one.
It is increasingly the case that people from all backgrounds in the North of Ireland think that Brexit makes Irish unity more likely. In 2016, 18% of unionist respondents thought Brexit made a united Ireland more likely; by 2018 it was 28%. The proportion of nationalists thinking this rose from 38% in 2016 to 64% in 2018.
But there is a big difference between expecting something and welcoming it. By late 2018 (the latest data we have), one-in-three of DUP supporters said Brexit makes them even less in favour of a united Ireland. Unsurprisingly, one-in-two of Sinn Fein supporters said Brexit made them even more in favour of it.
As for the avowedly non-aligned, they are changing. For one thing they are (now) voting, motivated, it seems, by a determination to remain. They are increasingly of the view that Brexit makes a united Ireland more likely. But they are not necessarily in favour of it.
While people in the North of Ireland are increasingly likely to think Brexit makes Irish unity more likely, there’s increasing polarisation in terms of how people view the prospect. In other words, Brexit has made something that people will disagree about profoundly (ie Irish unity) increasingly likely and increasingly consequential.
The North of Ireland will be affected in perpetuity and irrevocably by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in its relationship with Ireland and with Britain.
Whether this is for good or ill will, in many respects, depend on what happens over the course of the coming 11 months.
Katy Hayward is senior fellow of The UK in a Changing Europe. This article is from the UK in a Changing Europe’s report, Brexit: What Next?
With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph and Katy Hayward for the original story
Follow these links to find out more: https://www.newsnow.co.uk/h/UK/Brexit/Irish+Border