Leo Varadkar is back as Ireland’s Taoiseach, following a coalition deal switcheroo, and is already turning to the neverending problems seen with the Northern Ireland protocol. At a press briefing in Dublin, he told hacks that all parties – the EU, Ireland and the UK – “made mistakes in the handling of Brexit.” He specified that one error was designing the protocol as “perhaps… a little bit too strict.”
“We’ve seen that the protocol has worked without it being fully enforced.
“And that’s why I think there is room for flexibility and room for changes and we’re open to that and up for that, and I know from speaking to President Von der Leyen and Maros Sefcovic, that’s their position too.
“So, we are willing to show flexibility and to make compromises. We do want there to be an agreement.
He also tried to improve his poor image among Northern Ireland’s unionist community, many of whom blame him personally for the protocol problems:
“And, you know, I have spoken to a lot of people who come from a unionist background in Northern Ireland over the years.
“I do understand how they feel about the protocol. They feel that it diminishes their place in the Union, that it creates barriers between Britain and Northern Ireland that didn’t exist before.
“And I do understand that and I do get that.
Reacting to Varadkar’s honest statement, this morning John Redwood has said he is “glad Ireland now admits they and the EU made mistakes”, asking “will the EU now end its intransigence and drop the Protocol?” Guido reckons John will have to wish on tonight’s expected Quadrantid meteor shower to see any chance of that happening…
Yesterday’s Observer carried a nose-butting op-ed from Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s minister for foreign affairs, who in a joint byline with Simon Coveney slammed the UK government’s “unilateral” plans to change the Northern Ireland protocol and threaten the “rules-based international order”. According to the German government, there is “no legal or political justification” for the government’s proposal to de-restrict goods shipping between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. “We urge the British government to step back from their unilateral approach and show the same pragmatism and readiness to compromise that the EU has shown,” they say…
The UK government will be rightfully outraged at this hypocritical de haut en bas attitude from the German government. While their foreign minister is telling the UK to accept a border within the UK, five days ago president Olaf Sholz sought to cool tensions in the Baltics by urging Lithuania and the EU to lift restrictions on freight going from Russia to their Kaliningrad exclave, arguing war crime-committing Russia should be able to move goods freely through the EU single market because it’s all part of their country. If only Germany relied on Great Britain for swathes of their gas…
To compound the outrage, Annalena Baerbock’s op-ed went on to cite the Ukraine war as a reason against the UK’s unilateral move against the Northern Ireland protocol:
“In these difficult times, as Russia is leading a ruthless war in Ukraine, breaking with our European peace order, the EU and UK must stand together as partners with shared values and a commitment to uphold and strengthen the rules-based international order.”
If Germany is demanding the UK “show the same pragmatism and readiness to compromise the EU has shown”, perhaps they should be consistent in countenancing facilitations of moving goods around the continent for both Great Britain and Russia. Germany seems keener to appease Russia’s desire to export weapons to Kaliningrad than Britain’s desire to export sausages to Northern Ireland…
As the UK prepares to overhaul parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, Richard Thomson MP – the SNP’s shadow Northern Ireland spokesperson – has found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place: how can he attack the government for changing the protocol while also supporting the SNP’s plans to unlawfully ram through another independence referendum, even without Westminster’s legal required consent? Surely, if he thinks the former is illegal and should be prevented, so should the latter?
Thomson apparently hasn’t given this question much thought. Yesterday, he declared the UK’s plan is “utterly reckless and dangerous”, and suggested it breaks international law:
“The UK Government has form when it comes to breaching international law. However, this latest threat to unilaterally scrap aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol […] is utterly reckless and dangerous. Rather than reneging on its commitments the UK government should instead be working constructively to address the particular challenges facing Northern Ireland while ensuring that the Good Friday Agreement is protected.”
Yet even ignoring – as the EU appear to be doing – the fact that Article 13.8 allows for changes if the protocol is disrupting everyday life, it’s surprising to see Thomson suddenly develop an acute understanding and respect for the letter of the law. Speaking last month on the SNP’s plan to hold another referendum, Thomson said:
“Everybody knows there is a referendum in the works, it’s priced in […] I am confident the legislation will be laid in order to allow for a referendum in 2023. I have full confidence in the Scottish Government that it will deliver on that.”
Which has much the same tone as the government’s line on the Northern Ireland Protocol in relation to the EU. Nicola Sturgeon has now confirmed the SNP is prepared to steam ahead with that referendum legislation even without the permission of the UK Government – as is actually required under international* law:
“if we are to uphold democracy here in Scotland we must forge a way forward, if necessary, without a section 30 order.”
First he condmens the UK’s supposed threat to “breach international law“, now his own leader is preparing for an illegal referendum. Thomson must be furious.
Sir Keir has this afternoon announced Labour will vote against the government’s new Brexit laws scheduled to be published on Monday – which will give the UK the power to override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol – on the grounds that “it is the wrong approach” and would “breach international law“:
“I don’t think that the remaining issues under the protocol are incapable for resolution. So I don’t think that this legislation is the way forward. I think it will breach international law for starters… I also think it will be an impediment to the negotiations. We need a negotiated settlement to this.
When I think of all the issues, all the challenges that have been overcome in the last 20 years I don’t think that the remaining issues of the protocol are incapable of resolution”
He added that while there were “practical problems” with the protocol, a negotiated settlement could be achieved through “guile and hard work“. What that actually means is anyone’s guess.
It took less than an hour for the EU to start beating its chest over the Northern Ireland Protocol. At the time of going to pixel, Liz Truss is still up at the despatch box fielding questions over the planned changes, and already European Commission VP Maroš Šefčovič has issued a statement essentially threatening a full on trade war:
“Should the UK decide to move ahead with a bill disapplying constitutive elements of the Protocol as announced today by the UK government, the EU will need to respond with all measures at its disposal. Our overarching objective is to find joint solutions within the framework of the Protocol. That is the way to ensure legal certainty and predictability for people and businesses in Northern Ireland.”
Read the full statement below:
Liz Truss has just confirmed the government will set out draft legislation overwriting the Northern Ireland Protocol for the sake of preserving the Good Friday Agreement “in all its dimensions“. Unilateral action the EU is inevitably threatening would “break” international law…
While Truss stressed she is “open to a negotiated solution” with the EU, months of deadlock have finally come to a head, and unless the protocol is changed, power sharing in Stormont will be politically impossible. Truss stressed the changed would be “consistent with our obligations under international law”:
“The Northern Ireland protocol does not have the support necessary in one part of the community in Northern Ireland… practical problems have contributed to the sense that the east-west relationship has been undermined… We need to restore the balance in the agreement.”
The legislation will create a “green channel” for British goods entering Northern Ireland which will not be shipped out of the UK, tearing up the red tape currently in place on those exports. Businesses will also have a choice between aligning with UK or EU standards in a dual regulatory regime. The UK will also be able to set tax and spend policies across the entire country. The new bill will be set out in the next few weeks, before summer recess. “We cannot afford to delay any longer”…