Brussels’ top Brexit negotiator has said the EU wants to “get Brexit done”, while hitting out at the UK’s position on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic told a Bloomberg event in London that the “EU’s door remains open”, but that negotiations on the post-Brexit agreement are made more difficult “when there’s a gun on the table”.
Boris Johnson’s government has introduced legislation that will end the majority of checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister said this week that the government plans to have the legislation passed through parliament before the end of this year.
The EU says this is a breach of international law and Brussels have launched legal proceedings against the UK government.
Sefcovic slammed Johnson for his “my way or the highway approach”, which he says is “reflected in the latest UK unilateral move”.
“Northern Ireland could be fully exploiting its unique position. The Belfast of two worlds or as I hear in Belfast – ‘having jam on two sides of the bread,” he said.
“The protocol is the first time the EU has entrusted the control of its economic border to an outside partner. In practice, we adjusted our rules to allow Northern Ireland to maintain access to the EU’s single market for goods.”
Northern Ireland still follows the EU’s customs union and single market rules, unlike the rest of the UK, in order to prevent a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
The protocol mandated that there would be checks on a range of goods – particularly food and live animals – crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland to protect the EU’s single market from unauthorised products.
This has led to onerous checks, which have led to major supply chain disruption and anger among unionist communities about the so-called border in the Irish Sea.
The UK and EU both agree the protocol, which is as a part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, is not working and that stringent customs checks are creating economic and political difficulties in Northern Ireland.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss told MPs earlier this week that the protocol was “undermining the functioning of the [Good Friday peace] agreement” and has “created fractures between [Great Britain and Northern Ireland]”.
“We’ve already been negotiating for 18 months, we have a negotiating partner who is refusing to change the text of the protocol,” Truss said.
“Meanwhile, we have a worsening situation in Northern Ireland. It is firmly the view of this government that we need to act.”
Sefcovic said it was fanciful to suggest “all barriers can be lifted”, but that “some minimal checks will work”.