Brexit: Ireland 'wants to punish the UK' says Hoey
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Barry Andrews, of the governing Fianna Fail party, said Britain’s actions over the Brexit deal’s protocol to avoid a hard border has fuelled an atmosphere of “mistrust” in the Government. He called for Prime Minister Mr Johnson to agree to a series of “confidence-building measures” to help convince the EU that he is serious about making the border fix work. Mr Andrews told Express.co.uk: “The one thing I would call on the UK Government to commit to, in circumstances where there’s such a low level of trust between London and Brussels, is what we used to call in the Northern Ireland peace process ‘confidence-building measures’.”
The Withdrawal Agreement’s protocol was negotiated because of the region’s land border with the Republic of Ireland in the EU.
To keep the frontier open, Northern Ireland remains in the bloc’s single market, with controls on products shipped from the rest of the UK.
But now No10 has proposed rewriting its legal text in order to scrap the majority of EU-ordered checks and the European Court of Justice’s influence over the measures.
Brexit minister Lord Frost says this is required because the red tape is having a chilling effect on trade between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.
Unionist communities have also voiced anger over the arrangements, insisting they are being cut off from the rest of the UK.
In a bid to help alleviate the issues, Brussels offered a package of concessions – including rewriting the EU’s own rules to protect medicines supplies to the region.
But these were roundly rejected by Downing Street, with officials saying the proposals don’t go far enough to answer their concerns.
Mr Andrews said the snub had left a bad taste in the mouth of those in Brussels who were working on the issue.
“I thought the UK Government was very ungracious in regard to first of all the measures that were announced by the EU on June 30,” he said.
But he also said Downing Street had done little to respond to Brussels’ offer to pause legal proceedings against the Government.
Eurocrats had accused the UK of breaching international law by temporarily suspending EU-ordered checks between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.
Mr Andrews said the EU would find it hard to offer Britain more powers to monitor the bloc’s external customs processes in order to reduce the number of checks in the Irish Sea.
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He said that granting Brussels officials access to customs databases and IT systems to allow them to monitor, in real-time, trade between Britain and Northern Ireland would help the situation.
“I’m not even saying build the border posts you said you would or hire the veterinary agents necessary,” Mr Andrews added.
“Do the easier things… the low-hanging fruit, and then we can sort of sit up straight and say the UK Government has changed and they are serious about this now.”
UK and EU officials have already held talks in Brussels this week to discuss Downing Street’s Command Paper.
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No10 has praised the EU for pausing legal action against Britain to defuse tensions over trade checks.
The European Commission said the decision not to escalate infringement proceedings was to create the “necessary space” to consider the proposals on how to avoid a hard border.
An EC spokeswoman said: “The commission will carefully assess the new proposals made by the UK, in accordance with the necessary consultation procedures, both internally and with the European Parliament.
“In order to provide the necessary space to reflect on these issues and find durable solutions to the implementation of the protocol, we have decided at this stage not to move to the next stage of the infringement procedure, started in March.”
Whitehall officials said they have received a “constructive reply” from the Commission in response to the request for a standstill.
A Government spokeswoman added: “We look forward to engaging in talks with the EU in the weeks ahead. Significant changes are needed to ensure the protocol is sustainable for the future.”
Discussions are expected to continue over the summer as a series of deadlines loom – such as an EU ban on the sale of British sausages in Northern Ireland.
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