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Von der Leyen says Northern Ireland trade problems are caused by Brexit, not the Protocol

Erik G

THE TRADE PROBLEMS in Northern Ireland are not a result of the Protocol introduced after the UK left the EU but rather Brexit itself, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said.

She was speaking following the first day of the EU Council – the first such meeting since the introduction of the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement at the beginning of May.

A new raft of post-Brexit checks on GB-to-NI goods at the ports of Belfast and Larne, which are contained in the Protocol, have sparked anger among unionists and loyalists who feel Northern Ireland is being separated from the rest of the UK.

Some have also claim that the tensions are caused by other factors separate to the Protocol.

Loyalists recently told a Westminster committee that there was “seething anger” at Boris Johnson’s broken promise of unfettered GB-to-NI access, and that violence might be used as a “last resort”.

Westminster politicians have, in recent weeks, called for the Protocol to be pared back from what was originally agreed; Minister of State David Frost said during a trip to Northern Ireland that “common sense” must be used to solve the issue quickly. He also said recently that the UK’s relationship with Brussels will be “a bit bumpy for a time”.

Von der Leyen said yesterday: “The beginnings are not easy, tensions are being felt around the access, for example, of EU fishing boats, or tensions are without any doubt there around the implementation of the Protocol of Northern Ireland.”

While talks are continuing between the EU and the UK Government to solve some of the issues linked to the Protocol, both the outgoing DUP leader Arlene Foster and her incoming successor Edwin Poots have insisted it must be scrapped.

During the recent DUP leadership context, promising to remove the Northern Ireland Protocol became a crucial issue for the party’s elected representatives.

But von der Leyen said yesterday that this would not happen, adding: “There should be no doubt that there is no alternative to the full and correct implementation of the Protocol.

And I think it is important to reiterate that the Protocol is the only possible solution to ensure peace and stability in Northern Ireland while protecting the integrity of the European Union’s Single Market.

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“If we see problems today we should not forget that they do not come from the Protocol but they result from Brexit. That is the reason why the problems are there.

“Now, it’s our common duty with the United Kingdom to do whatever we can to reduce tensions in Northern Ireland and that is why we are exploring practical solutions to help to minimise the disruptions to the everyday life in Northern Ireland.”

Poots has claimed recently that the Northern Ireland Protocol is “undeliverable” and indicated he may order officials to halt border checks if the issue is not resolved.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said that the checks on goods going to Northern Ireland from Great Britain could be reduced by 80% if the UK agreed on common standards for veterinary practices, and sanitary and phytosanitary standards on food. The UK refused this option during Brexit negotiations.

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha.

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