Politics

Coveney ‘deliberately ignoring’ British concerns in Brexit row: ‘Trying to raise tensions’

Bernard Jenkin grilled on Northern Ireland Protocol by McCoy

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In a brutal rebuke of Dublin, Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) MLA Steve Aiken said the attitude of Irish politicians towards post-Brexit Britain had contributed to the upheaval in the Six Counties. Mr Coveney has claimed the disruption was caused by the “type of Brexit that was chosen by the British Government”, not the protocol.

Mr Aiken, a former UUP leader, said he has been urging the Irish government for the past few years to ensure post-Brexit arrangements protect communities above the border but has been met with a “very poor response”.

He told Express.co.uk: “I think Simon Coveney has been listening but he’s deliberately decided to underplay or to dismiss Unionist concerns because he can’t have been in a position where he doesn’t understand what’s been going on because we’ve been telling him directly for so long now he should have understood.

“We have pointed out time and time again that putting a border in the Irish Sea fundamentally undermines the peace process.

“I’ve told him that personally for the last three years and he hasn’t listened – or what I think has happened is he has listened and he has chosen to deliberately ignore that.

“I think he fundamentally wants to undermine the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland’s place within it.”

Firms in Northern Ireland have been hit by major business setbacks due to the protocol, a key part of the Withdrawal Agreement, which aims to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The protocol effectively created a border in the Irish Sea and means food products must be checked and controlled as they enter Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

Unionists fear they are being cut off from the rest of the UK and have been staging protests calling for the protocol to be scrapped.

The UUP politician admitted he was “not a great fan of the European Union” but supported Remain in the Brexit referendum due to the upheaval he foresaw.

He suggested the Irish government and EU politicians were using the protocol to punish the UK and forward their own interests and were “deliberately trying to raise tensions”.

Mr Aiken added: “You have to think, particularly what’s going on in Northern Ireland at the moment, the concerns that people have about the protocol and indeed the external nature of politics here, why they would be deliberately trying to raise the tensions when what everybody should be doing is working to calm things down.

“The protocol fundamentally undermines the principles of democracy and sovereignty on this island and that is bad.

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“I do not want to see any violence anywhere and that was one of the reasons why our party supported the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and why we made the very difficult decisions to maintain the peace.

“And that’s why we’ve been telling everybody, particularly the people in the Republic, the likes of Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney who doesn’t seem to listen…trying to tell them that you’re fundamentally undermining the peace process by imposing a border in the Irish Sea.

Mr Aiken described his South Antrim constituency as a mix of small businesses, retail, rural communities and said it had been “very badly affected” by the post-Brexit measures.

He explained: “It’s added significantly to costs and quite a few of the distribution companies, the logistics companies, that are in my constituency had had their costs go up by around 30 percent.

“We’ve also seen in the shopping baskets in the supermarket chains some of the items have have disappeared, that we would normally have seen coming from the rest of our country.

“Another issue is that previously we were part of a ‘just enough, just in time’ distribution system.

“Now, a few of our smaller businesses and smaller manufacturing businesses are having real difficulties with dealing with the vast increase in bureaucracy and amount of paperwork being required.”

London and Brussels remain at loggerheads over how to solve the post-Brexit disruption caused by the protocol.

Maros Sefcovic, vice president of the European Commission said the EU was willing to find creative solutions.

Britain’s Brexit minister David Frost called Mr Sefcovic’s speech “thoughtful and interesting” and said he looked forward to the EU’s response to the British proposals.

He tweeted: “I agree, as he says, that there is still a ‘window for productive political dialogue and positive results.”

Mr Coveney has been contacted for comment.

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