The EU’s Brexit chief has today warned the UK to not “further sour our relationship” by taking unilateral actions in Northern Ireland as negotiations between the two sides continue.
European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said the EU is committed to the Good Friday Agreement and not having a hard border on the island of Ireland, after being accused by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of “playing fast and loose with the peace process”.
Boris Johnson’s UK-EU minister Lord David Frost is locked in discussions with Sefcovic over how to apply the Northern Ireland Protocol, after Brussels launched legal action against the UK over its move to postpone border checks.
The protocol has been met with fury by some parts of the unionist community for creating a so-called border in the Irish sea, which sees Northern Ireland treated differently to the rest of the UK.
Northern Ireland still follows the EU’s customs union and single market rules, while the rest of the UK does not.
Full customs checks were supposed to be imposed on things like food, parcels and medicines going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland from June, however the UK moved earlier this year to unilaterally postpone these checks until October.
Brussels accused the UK of breaking the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement by doing this and launched legal action.
Sefcovic today urged the UK to work together with the EU to find a resolution to the post-Brexit issues.
“We’ve been negotiating the protocol for four years, because we jointly came to the conclusion that this is the best possible solution,” he told the BBC.
“I think what we need in our EU-UK relationship is more cooperation, a joint approach and not unilateral actions that would further sour our relationship and build it on top of the pictures that have been dominating European press where European citizens have been put in detention cells or being finger printed because they wanted to visit the United Kingdom.
“It doesn’t help the atmosphere.”
Downing Street said two weeks ago that the Northern Ireland Protocol in its current form is “unsustainable”, while a Johnson ally told the Telegraph the treaty was “dead in the water”.
The protocol, combined with Brussels’ quickly overturned move in January to break the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, has sparked growing anger in some of Northern Ireland’s unionist communities.
This is one of the reasons behind almost two weeks of violent rioting seen in Belfast in April, while Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster was forced to quit over anger from within her DUP about the post-Brexit arrangements.
New DUP leader Edwin Poots told the BBC today that the protocol should be scrapped.
“The EU has tunnel vision in respect to the protocol and nothing but the protocol,” he said.
“They’re playing fast and loose with the peace process as a part of it.”
Sefcovic denied this charge and said there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland.