UK, EU fall into fresh row over Northern Ireland

2021-02-05 12:05:07

Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster talks during a television interview outside the Stormont Parliament building in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Dec 30, 2020. [Photo/Agencies] The part of the post-Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland "cannot work" and "needs to be replaced", said the nation's First Minister Arlene Foster following talks between the United Kingdom and the European Union amid an escalating row over trade rules. After their virtual meeting with Northern Ireland leaders on Wednesday, British Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic released a joint statement saying all parties would maintain close communication and would meet again next week in London. Writing in The Telegraph, Foster said the Northern Ireland protocol, designed to ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland, risked the country's "political and economic links" to the UK. The protocol means checks are made on some goods traded across the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and allows them to move freely on the island of Ireland. Checks at some ports were suspended this week following "sinister" threats and intimidation of port staff . Gove and Sefcovic said they "would immediately work intensively to find solutions to outstanding issues, to be addressed through the Joint Committee". Both said they "condemned unreservedly any threats or intimidation", and stressed that "the safety and welfare of the people of Northern Ireland "would always be the "utmost priority", the BBC reported. Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson raised the prospect of triggering Article 16 of the protocol, which is intended to be used when the agreement is unexpectedly leading to serious "economic, societal or environmental difficulties". Johnson said: "We will do everything we need to do, whether legislatively or indeed by triggering Article 16 of the protocol, to ensure that there is no barrier down the Irish Sea." Last month, the EU itself had threatened to invoke Article 16 as part of the bloc's row with drugmakers over COVID-19 vaccines and its plans to introduce export controls on jabs. Earlier this week, Johnson accused the EU of having "undermined" and "provoked concern" over the protocol, following the COVID-19 vaccines row, and called for "urgent action" from Brussels. The prime minister vowed that Northern Ireland's place in the UK will be "protected and strengthened". Northern Ireland's first minister warned that simply extending grace periods for businesses could not solve the "wholly disproportionate "checks implemented since the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. Foster said: "The Northern Ireland Protocol has not worked, cannot work and in light of our proposals to the Government, needs to be replaced.