Thursday, 18 November 2021
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
198. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which efforts continue to be made at all levels to ensure that the Northern Ireland peace process is not damaged by ongoing Brexit related developments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56773/21]
199. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he has had discussions with the Northern Ireland and or the UK authorities with a view to ensuring that recent interpretations of Brexit are not allowed to damage the peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56774/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 198 and 199 together.
At an early stage in the Withdrawal Agreement negotiations, both the UK and the EU acknowledged the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, recognising the necessity of protecting the gains of the peace process, including avoiding a hard border and protecting North-South cooperation. To recall, the Protocol is the joint EU-UK solution to mitigate against the disruption Brexit causes for citizens and businesses on the island of Ireland. It is an integral part of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and the result of over four years of difficult negotiation. It was designed and agreed by the UK and the EU to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement and gains of the peace process, and to protect the integrity of the EU Single Market and Ireland’s place in it.
Discussions between the EU and the UK on the Protocol, including between UK Minister David Frost and Commission Vice President Maros Šefcovic, are ongoing. Our aim is to see a positive outcome to these discussions.
I am in regular and ongoing contact with political leaders and representatives of business and civil society in Northern Ireland in relation to the implementation of the Protocol. Last week, the Taoiseach also had a series of calls with the leaders of the Northern Ireland political parties, to discuss the current situation regarding talks on the Protocol. He highlighted the EU’s commitment to addressing genuine implementation issues around the Protocol and emphasised that the ongoing talks between the EU and the UK should be given every chance to succeed.
Support for the Commission package and minimising disruption remains strong in Northern Ireland, particularly among the business community. Recent polling on attitudes to the Protocol in Northern Ireland show that a majority of people view the Protocol as a good thing for Northern Ireland and that people, across communities, support “ongoing solution seeking” and a pragmatic approach. I am also very aware of stakeholders’ views on opportunities that the Protocol offers for Northern Ireland, giving them access to both the UK as well as the EU internal markets. Realising the opportunities presented by the Protocol, as our economies build back from the impact of COVID-19, should be the focus of our energy at this time.
The Commission’s recent proposals address concerns raised by unionists, including significantly reducing checks on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and giving Northern Ireland a greater say in how the Protocol is implemented. It is also important to reiterate that the Protocol recognises the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.
I have met with Minister Frost on a number of occasions in recent months, most recently in September, at the meeting of the British Irish Association in Oxford. I have also discussed the Protocol in meetings with other UK ministers, including with Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss on 13 October and the Minister for Europe and Americas at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, Wendy Morton, on 1 October. Other Ministers have also regularly raised the Protocol with UK counterparts in recent contacts.
In all contacts with relevant stakeholders, I have emphasised the importance of using the EU-UK framework for issues related to the Protocol and of finding a solution that works for the people of Northern Ireland. We are impressing on them that invoking Article 16 would have far-reaching implications for the EU-UK relationship and for our bilateral relationship. The European Commission has acted in good faith. A good faith response is required from the British Government.
I am of course also in regular contact with Vice President Šefcovic, with our partners across the EU, and the US Administration and members of Congress, all of whom remain committed to protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process. The Protocol is the agreed way to do this and I believe strongly that the Protocol will work, if we allow it to with flexibility and pragmatism.