Europe

Michael Gove says EU Ireland talks ‘far from resolved’– braces for showdown this week

Michael Gove admits EU talks on Ireland ‘far from resolved’

Michale Gove insisted movement is required to ensure the “appropriate reset” is agreed between the UK and the European Union after a tense few days. Two weeks ago, Brussels sparked panic after unilaterally triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol the two sides struck as part of the Brexit trade agreement. Mr Gove said progress in moving on had been made but insisted further negotiations are necessary.

Giving evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee, Mr Gove said: “Progress is being made but we’re very far from resolving all those problems.

“We had a good and productive conversation with Vice-President Šefčovič and the First Minister and the deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.

“Both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister talked privately and candidly about the challenges the people of Northern Ireland face on the ground.”

He continued: “I’ve been talking not just with the parties in Northern Ireland but also representatives of the Irish Government at ministerial level and, even as we speak, the team has been in discussion with the Commission as a preview to Vice-President Šefčovič coming to the UK this Thursday for more conversations.

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“I would like to make sure we accelerate that progress, it’s not been as fast as I would like but I also recognise the Commission has its own processes.”

The Secretary of the Duchy of Lancaster was also questioned on what might have pushed the European Union to trigger Article 16 while bypassing its own rules on notifying the UK about the decision.

Mr Gove said he could only speculate about the reasoning behind the move but insisted Brussels owed EU citizens an “explanation” for threatening to cause major trade disruptions.

He continued: “The speed with which some in the commission acted took others in the commission and others – not least in Ireland – by surprise.

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“One of the things that I think, if I may say so, the commission probably owes its member states is a fuller explanation of why it acted in the way that it did.”

He said the consequences “were undoubtedly damaging for the smooth operation of the (Northern Ireland) protocol and they had an adverse impact on trust in Northern Ireland”.

Katy Hayward, a professor of sociology at Queen’s University in Belfast and a former adviser to the Brexit department, claimed Brussels insisted the post-conflict peace process in Northern Ireland be put at the centre of Brexit trade negotiations.

Prof Hayward said EU officials had since taken a “one-dimensional” approach which did not serve the region well when it came to ensuring the new system was running smoothly.

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The expert said more than 20 committees and bodies were supposed to have been set up to under the terms of the Brexit trade deal to help maintain a post-Brexit relationship on everything from fishing to energy supplies and aviation deals.

She said around a dozen more were due to be created following the signing of the Northern Ireland Protocol a year ago but the failure to do so, has sparked the rising tensions which led to the withdrawal of Brexit staff at Northern Irish ports last week.

A key working consultative group to keep the UK-EU joint committee overseeing the implementation of Brexit informed was never set up which is why restrictions on food, pets and plants have been so rigorously applied.

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