‘You won’t get it’: EU ambassador warns Boris he can’t force Northern Ireland Protocol climbdown out of Brussels and claims ‘overblown’ Covid vaccine row is ‘no excuse’ to set aside post-Brexit trade rules
Joao Vale de Almeida reiterated that the EU ‘cannot renegotiate’ the Northern Ireland Protocol, as he jibed that the ink was ‘hardly dry’ on the agreement signed in January 2020.
He insisted that solutions to trade disruption for goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland had to be found ‘within the limits’ of the existing Protocol.
The diplomat raised the prospect of a bitter EU-UK trade war if the Prime Minister pushed ahead with plans to unilaterally set aside key parts of the agreement.
Mr De Almeida also claimed that an ‘overblown’ row about EU moves to tear up the Protocol last year, amid a dispute about Covid vaccines, was not a ‘good enough excuse’ for British action now.
Mr Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss this week set out how Britain will unilaterally overhaul post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland should negotiations with the EU continue to stall.
It comes amid a deep political crisis in Northern Ireland, with the DUP refusing to re-enter a power-sharing Executive or allow an Assembly to function at Stormont without changes to the Protocol.
The UK Government is pursuing a twin-track approach to the Protocol by remaining open to further talks with Brussels. But it is also pushing ahead with legislation at Westminster to achieve reforms if those discussions go nowhere.
Joao Vale de Almeida, Brussels’ ambassador to the UK, reiterated that the EU ‘cannot renegotiate’ the Northern Ireland Protocol
Boris Johnson this week set out how Britain will unilaterally overhaul post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland should negotiations with the EU continue to stall
The EU’s ‘dogmatic’ and ‘rigid’ implementation of the Protocol has been blamed for causing significant trade disruption between Great Britain and Northern Ireland
The Protocol was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
But the EU’s ‘dogmatic’ and ‘rigid’ implementation of the Protocol has been blamed for causing significant trade disruption, while unionists fear it has jeopardised Northern Ireland’s position in the UK.
Speaking to journalists at a Westminster lunch, Mr De Almeida lashed out at the British Government’s new approach to the Protocol row.
‘It is not very reassuring if you go into a negotiation where you are presented with two options: either renegotiation or unilateral action to override,’ 他说.
The ambassador hit back at Mr Johnson’s promise in recent days to ‘fix’ and not ‘nix’ the UK-EU agreement.
‘This is not the best way to fix, this is rather the way maybe to nix,’ he said of the Government’s plans.
Despite EU-UK negotiations on the Protocol having dragged on for months already, Mr De Almeida said there was ‘untapped potential’ in the proposals Brussels had put forward to resolve the row.
他说: ‘The potential of those proposals is not yet exhausted. There is untapped potential in those proposals for us to find the solution – provided that we are focused on finding the solutions.’
The ambassador added the EU ‘is committed to contribute to solutions for the problems that we recognise exist in implementing the Protocol, but we cannot renegotiate the Protocol’.
‘The ink of the signatures is hardly dry,’ 他说. ‘We negotiated for a long time, there is no real alternative to it.’
Ms Truss has called for EU leaders to hand a new negotiating mandate to EU vice-president Maros Sefcovic, who is leading discussions on the Protocol for Brussels.
But the ambassador stressed this would not be happening.
Mr De Almeida said: ‘We were told that we should get a new mandate but I can tell you very clearly what the member states are telling us is very simple: You don’t need a mandate and even if you ask for one, you will not get it.’
He added he was ‘worried by the low levels of trust’ that currently exists between the EU and UK.
The Brussels diplomat also revived a threat of a EU-UK trade war if Britain pushed ahead with unilateral action on the Protocol.
‘If there is unilateral action on one side, there will be a reaction on the other,’ 他说.
‘I cannot anticipate what that reaction will be. We are more focussed now on trying to restart the talks.’
Mr De Almeida also rubbished suggestions that past EU moves to set aside parts of the Protocol in January last year – through the use of the agreement’s Article 16 – were not ‘a good enough excuse’ for unilateral action from Britain now.
Referring to Brussels’ consideration of triggering Article 16 as part of a row over Covid vaccines, the ambassador revealed how the dispute erupted on his birthday while he was having dinner with his wife.
‘We managed to solve that problem in three-and-a-half hours,’ 他说.
‘It was a mistake made by some people in our system, which was corrected, that never saw the light of day in a legislative proposal.
‘If people want to amplify it… to justify their actions down the road, that’s their responsibility.
‘We believe this has been excessively overblown, magnified for whatever reasons.’
他加了: ‘We apologised profusely, we corrected before it had an impact and I don’t think that is a good enough excuse to rock the boat of our relationship.’