Brexit: Simon Coveney shut down by host on UK-US trade deal
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The Protocol is part of the Brexit divorce deal aimed at avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Under the terms of the deal, Northern Ireland effectively remains in the EU single market following the end of the transition period meaning checks take place on goods arriving from mainland Britain.
But following Unionist backlash at Stormont over the post-Brexit trading arrangements, talks are taking place between London and Brussels over how the Protocol could be implemented in future.
The UK Government is threatening to take what is seen to be the “nuclear option” of triggering Article 16 of the Protocol.
Such a move would effectively tear up parts of the deal negotiated with the EU last December.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said it would be “of serious concern to the United States” if the deal was teared up.
He said: “The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed between the EU and the UK and our view is that the two sides should work together in a constructive way to find a deal and a way forward.
“Without something like the Northern Ireland Protocol and with the possibility of the return of a hard border between NI and the Republic of Ireland, we will have a serious risk to stability and to the sanctity of the Good Friday Agreement and that is of significant concern to the US.”
Mr Suillvan’s comments echo a meeting the US President had with Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month where he stressed the importance of protecting the Good Friday Agreement.
The US official made clear to the BBC: “The United States government, as President Biden said in the Oval Office with Prime Minister Johnson, strongly supports the Good Friday Agreement.
“He believes it must be protected and believes that peace and stability in Northern Ireland must be protected.”
Meanwhile, Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the UK and EU were in “solution mode” on the Protocol, with the next two months offering a “window of opportunity” to resolve the stand-off.
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Mr Martin was in Belfast on Friday to hold talks with Stormont’s political leaders on issues including the contentious post-Brexit trading arrangements that have created economic barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
His visit came on the back of an announcement by European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic on Thursday that the EU was preparing to table “far-reaching proposals” aimed at reducing the Irish Sea trade friction.
But Brexit Minister Lord Frost has made clear the framework of the protocol would need to change completely in proposals set out in a command paper in July.
Mr Martin said he accepted problems with the “practical” operation of the protocol were issues of “genuine concern” to people in Northern Ireland.
Addressing reporters, he said: “They do need resolution.
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“Maros Sefcovic has been really applying himself to this issue. I am in no doubt that the European Union is in solution mode and will be coming forward with proposals in relation to this issue.
“The United Kingdom government are signalling that they’re solution-focused as well.
“So, there is a window of opportunity over the next six weeks to two months to try and get these issues resolved to the mutual satisfaction of all, so that we can make the protocol work operationally for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland.”
Mr Martin added: “I have a view that given my dealings with Maros Sefcovic and my engagement with the European Commission, my engagement with the British government for the last number of weeks, that there is a view that people are in solution mode here, people want to get a solution to this, including the political parties in Northern Ireland.
“So, whenever people are in that mode of thinking, I think one can be hopeful, but I wouldn’t underestimate the challenges.
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“I do believe that the United Kingdom government and the European Union have to get down to really serious discussions on the proposals that will emerge shortly.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “Significant changes are needed to the Protocol in order to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and the peace process.
“We await a formal response from the EU to the proposals set out in our command paper.
“Any proposals must be subject to genuine negotiation and the commission mustn’t take a ‘take it or leave it’ approach.
“If solutions cannot be agreed soon, we will need to act using the Article 16 safeguard mechanism to address the disruption that the protocol is causing on the ground.”
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