Tuesday, June 15, 2021

By Michelle Devane, PA

The EU would “react firmly” if the UK takes further unilateral action over the Northern Ireland Protocol in the coming weeks, the EU financial services commissioner has warned.

Mairead McGuinness told an Irish parliamentary meeting that there comes a point in a relationship where if you are not being fairly treated or treated with respect, there is a “need to respond”.

The Irish commissioner added the UK needed to demonstrate that it is committed to the full implementation of the protocol.

The protocol involves trade checks between Britain and Northern Ireland, as the region is tied to a range of EU customs and regulatory rules to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Ms McGuinness said: “There must be joint endeavour between both sides, but unfortunately from our side there are fundamentally gaps in the UK implementation of the agreement.

“The European Union has the tools to deal with these challenges, like the infringement procedure launched in March, due to the UK breaching its obligations under the protocol, and if the UK were to take further unilateral action over the coming weeks, the EU would react firmly to ensure that the UK abides by its obligations under international law.

“There comes a point in a relationship if you’re not being fairly treated or treated with respect, there is a need to respond.”

The protocol was a UK choice

Ms McGuinness appeared before the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on Tuesday morning.

She told TDs and senators trust needs to be restored: “To have trust we need to know that the UK will meet the commitments it made under the arrangement.

“But I do believe with goodwill and with a practical approach, we can resolve those issues.”

Ms McGuinness also told the committee that the protocol remains the “best and only possible solution” to ensure peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and to protect the Good Friday Agreement while protecting the integrity of the EU’s single market.

“The protocol reflects the political choices of the United Kingdom,” she said.

“The protocol was a UK choice.”

EU-Ireland trade checks

Ms McGuinness also said the EU has “no interest” in implementing checks between Ireland and mainland Europe if the Northern Ireland Protocol cannot be implemented in full.

She made the comments in response to chairwoman Fianna Fáil senator Lisa Chambers who asked the commissioner about speculation that checks may be imposed on goods coming from the Republic to the rest of the EU should the Northern Ireland Protocol not be implemented fully.

An article in Politico last week stated EU officials and diplomats were discussing an emergency plan to solve the impasse over the Brexit settlement in Northern Ireland that would see Ireland’s access to the bloc’s single market for goods restricted.

Ms McGuinness rejected the suggestion, saying: “There is no interest here at the Commission or in the European Union to make the problem an Irish problem because clearly this is a Brexit problem.

“It is a decision of the United Kingdom, which they took in my view without due consideration of the wider implications and what we’ve been trying to do since that date of that referendum is work towards agreements with the United Kingdom to minimise the disruption and the damage.”

She added: “I would like to stress very clearly that that is not on the agenda here, and that there is again and remains huge sensitivity for the island of Ireland and Ireland as a full member of the European Union.”

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