EU Commissioner Mered McGuinness insisted that Europe would not allow Ireland to be highlighted in the fallout if negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol ended in failure.
McGuinness, Ireland’s representative at the European Commission, was commenting on the potential for the country to be disproportionately affected if there was a collapse of a Brexit trade arrangement designed to prevent the island’s land borders from hardening.
McGuinness also said that relations between the UK and the EU would be in a «very, very difficult place» if there was any truth to claims made by former Downing Street chief adviser Dominic Cummings that the UK government has always intended to abandon the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The European Union and the United Kingdom are preparing for an intense round of negotiations in the coming weeks after Brussels last week published a set of proposals aimed at cutting red tape imposed by the protocol on the transport of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
However, the plan did not address a key UK demand – the abolition of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) oversight function in the operation of the protocol.
Brexit minister David Frost has warned that his government would be willing to suspend some aspects of the protocol – by activating the Article 16 mechanism – if it cannot reach an agreement with the bloc on changing how it operates.
This has raised the possibility of retaliatory action by the European Union, possibly in the form of further restrictions on trade with the United Kingdom.
McGuinness told RTÉ One’s The Week In Politics that it is more important to focus on getting a successful outcome of the negotiations rather than the «what ifs» that might materialize if talks break down.
But she added: «Ultimately, if things fall apart and if there is a feeling that the UK is not ready to agree to existing commitments or to reach agreement on a new deal, then of course Europe will have to act in Europe’s best interest. So I think that is clear.»
«In terms of specific issues or where we can take action, I mean there are many ways to do that, we don’t have the lists right now.»
EU Commissioner Tweet embed He talks about the options the EU faces if London fails to reach an agreement on #NIprotocol. Watch the full interview tonight at 2200 on RTÉ and at 23:05 afterwards Tweet embed. #rtepolitics #rtetwip pic.twitter.com/RgYBT2vxRQ
– The week in politics (rtetwip) October 17 2021
McGuinness was asked if Ireland would be the worst affected member state if the protocol talks ended in failure.
«There is certainly a reality, and my colleagues in Europe and around the Commission understand that Ireland is in a very vulnerable position, because if things go wrong we may find ourselves in a difficult situation,» she said.
“I don’t find any sense among the member states that they want to single out Ireland or make it feel weak.
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«But I’ll ask a question on the British side – I hope that’s not their intention, and I hope they don’t use Ireland, unlike Northern Ireland, as a way, if you like, to remake things, because that won’t wash well either.»
Last week, Cummings noted that the UK government had always intended to abandon the protocol, which it signed as part of the 2020 EU withdrawal agreement.
McGuinness said that allegation had left her «speechless.»
“How do you answer, if this is the truth?” She said.
How do you deal politically, democratically and diplomatically, if this is true?
“If Dominic Cummings’ tweets are correct, then I think we are in a very difficult place. So for my part, as a European Commission representative, we have to believe in good faith, because if we act in good faith, we solve problems where they exist.
“What bothers me is that sometimes on the part of the UK, the moment there is a solution they find a problem with that solution, and that is not progress. This swings back and forth at the expense of the people of Northern Ireland.”
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