Foreign Affairs | Discussions with EU/UK authorities regarding protection of the Good Friday agreement
To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent of any recent discussions with the UK/EU authorities in relation to ensuring the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the attendant Protocol which was agreed internationally; if a particular procedure is required in the event of one of the participating parties taking a unilateral stance which might jeopardise any such agreement; if it is recognised that there may be far reaching consequences in such a case; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland was designed and agreed by the UK and the EU to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its dimensions, to mitigate the inevitable disruption arising for the island of Ireland from Brexit, and to protect the integrity of EU Single Market, and Ireland’s place within it.
The Protocol fully recognises the constitutional position of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent as set out in the Good Friday Agreement. It protects North South cooperation and the all-island economy, the gains of the peace process which benefit communities North and South, and ensures ‘no diminution of rights, safeguards, or equality of opportunity’ as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.
The fundamental purpose of the Protocol is to protect the Good Friday Agreement. Arguing that the Protocol and the Good Friday Agreement are incompatible is disingenuous and irresponsible. Taken together, they are a powerful expression of what negotiation and partnership can achieve.
It is Brexit, and in particular the type of hard Brexit pursued by the British Government, that is the major impediment to the free flow of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. The EU has always been, and remains, committed to the smoothest possible implementation of the Protocol but this is only possible with cooperation from the British Government.
I maintain regular and ongoing contact with my British Government counterparts, including Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Secretary of State Brandon Lewis, with regard to the Protocol. I also maintain ongoing contact with the parties and other stakeholders in Northern Ireland, as well as with Commission Vice-President Šefcovic, EU counterparts, and a range of US partners.
In contacts with the British Government, I have consistently set out the Irish Government’s deep disappointment at their decision to table legislation that would empower UK Ministers to unilaterally disapply core parts of the Protocol. Such unilateral action would, if enacted, breach international law. It damages relationships within Northern Ireland, across our islands, between our governments, and between the UK and the EU.
I underlined that people in Northern Ireland do not support this legislation. We have seen that 52 MLAs have written to Prime Minister Johnson expressing “in the strongest possible terms” their objection to it. Northern Ireland business is clear that they need certainty and stability and that this requires a negotiated settlement.
Both the Irish Government and European Commission have engaged consistently with Northern Ireland stakeholders, including the Unionist community, to understand their concerns. In October, the Commission presented proposals directly addressing these concerns, but the UK has not seriously engaged with them. Last week, in addition to relaunching infringement proceedings following the UK’s actions on the Protocol, the Commission outlined further detail on these proposals. We fully support the EU’s calm, measured and firm approach.
Only joint solutions can provide the long-term legal certainty and predictability which people and business in Northern Ireland need. The UK needs to reciprocate the flexibility shown by the EU. I urge the British Government to step away from the path it has chosen and engage constructively with the EU.
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