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Brexit fury: Ireland erupts as it’s caught in middle of EU-UK row over red tape

4 min read

Brexit: Northern Ireland 'annexed' by Protocol claims Habib

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Concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol to avoid a hard border have caused massive friction between Brussels and London. But it is Dublin that finds itself stuck in the middle of the row, juggling the delicate issue of the peace process alongside its steadfast commitment to EU membership. Its politicians say they have spent years working to keep discussions between the EU and UK civilised on the thorny issue of the Irish border.

Both sides eventually agreed on the Brexit deal’s protocol as the solution to maintain frictionless trade between north and south.

But the measures have been heavily criticised by the UK Government and unionist politicians in Northern Ireland.

To keep the border open, Northern Ireland essentially remains in the EU’s single market, with a number of controls on goods sent from the rest of the UK.

This has prompted complaints that the region has been annexed from mainland Britain and the arrangements have had a chilling effect on trade.

Brexit minister Lord Frost has called for the legal text to be renegotiated to eliminate the trade checks, but his plan to protect peace in the region has been largely rejected by Brussels.

Neale Richmond, European affairs spokesman for Fine Gale, the second biggest party in Ireland’s coalition government, said: “We spend a lot of time second-guessing what the British Government is trying to achieve.”

He branded a recent newspaper article by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Lord Frost “really unhelpful”.

They had both argued there was a threat to peace and stability in the area if a “new balance” was not found for the protocol.

The DUP have long argued that Dublin has failed to protect North-South relations through its failure to help rip up or overhaul the arrangements.

Mr Richmond told the FT: “It’s not in Ireland’s interests to chase the nonsense the DUP are talking about.”

Dublin has called for a pragmatic approach but insists the protocol should not be renegotiated.

The Irish government has made clear that flexibilities exist within the legal treaty to protect the territorial integrity of the UK and Northern Ireland’s place within it.

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Micheal Collins, a former Irish ambassador to the US and Germany, said Ireland has been “as helpful as we can be” but there are limits.

He added: “The one thing we cannot do is to seek to persuade the EU to take action which would in any way undermine the integrity of the EU single market.

“First of all they wouldn’t do it, and second of all it wouldn’t be in our interests because it’s our single market as well.”

Mr Richmond did concede that the North-South relationship is currently in a “difficult position”, but says that it’s a much wider issue than the political rows between the DUP and Fine Gael.

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The Irish MP remains hopeful that an agreement over the protocol is possible.

But Mr Collins, now of the Institute of International and European Affairs think-tank, said: “Brexit isn’t going to end up in a situation where everybody is 100 percent happy.

“That’s just not the way Brexit is.”

Lord Frost is expected to resume talks with his EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic in September in the hope of reaching an agreement to remove the burden of Brussels’ red tape on Northern Ireland.

A UK Government spokesman said: “It’s clear that the Protocol is not working in its current form and significant changes are needed to ensure that it is sustainable for the future.

“The Protocol is causing disruption to the everyday lives of people in Northern Ireland – companies are stopping delivering to Northern Ireland, there are growing difficulties with medicines supplies, and products are disappearing from supermarket shelves.

“We have set out our proposals to resolve the serious issues with the Protocol in exhaustive detail in our Command Paper. The EU need to engage with us urgently on these issues – we are ready to move forward in a constructive way.”

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