Edwin Poots on legal action against Northern Ireland Protocol
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Maroš Šefčovič hit out at Britain’s response to the post-Brexit situation in the six counties, and defended the controversial protocol, which is designed to protect the bloc’s single market at the border with the UK without returning to a hard border on the island of Ireland. His rebuke of the UK’s response comes after unionist and loyalist anger descended into violence in recent weeks over post-Brexit border checks.
Mr Šefčovič said he was looking at possible “solutions” to solve the problems arising.
However, he insisted the protocol should not be scrapped, saying it presented “opportunity” and would take care of daily problems in Northern Ireland.
Mr Sefcovic suggested a temporary Swiss-style deal as a solution for Northern Ireland.
He said the UK “just need to get over, I would say, ideology into pragmatism and real politics and go for this type of veterinary agreement, which could be done just like this within a few weeks”.
The protocol agreed under the UK-EU Brexit deal means that Northern Ireland in effect remained within the EU’s single market for goods and a customs border sprung up for products crossing between the region and the rest of the UK.
Some communities in Northern Ireland have been incensed over how the post-Brexit arrangement for them has played out.
As checks are carried out on goods at ports in Belfast and Larne, loyalists and pro-Union supporters have argued the system effectively cuts them off from the rest of the UK.
The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the first key test for the new DUP leader is to find a “sensible offer” which could remove 80 percent of the post-Brexit checks at Northern Ireland’s ports.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Edwin Poots, who succeeded Arlene Foster, said he wanted a permanent solution to remove the barriers.
Mr Eastwood criticised what he termed a “knee-jerk dismissal of this offer”.
He said: “The European Commission is now publicly offering the sensible solution of a veterinary agreement, similar to the deal which already operates between EU countries and Switzerland.
“We know this Swiss-style deal would automatically remove 80 percent of the protocol checks overnight. This is exactly the solution the SDLP has been calling on for months.”
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He added: “This offer on the Protocol is the first key test for the new DUP leadership.
“Edwin Poots has a choice – he can either work with us on this sensible solution or he can continue down the path of division, threats and political dead ends.
“He needs to carefully reflect on that choice, because real leadership means focusing on healing divisions across our whole community, not just obsessing on divisions within his own political party.
“This offer is now an opportunity to finally resolve the issues around the protocol and allow us all to get back to the real issues that people in Northern Ireland need us to focus on.”
Mr Poots accused the EU of treating Northern Ireland as a political “plaything”.
And he suggested the current EU commissioners do not seem to care for the peace process.
He warned continued anger over the protocol could spill into violence on the streets over the coming months.
He said: “I don’t want to use a threat of violence in terms of this.
“Our arguments are very clear, they are very coherent.
“This is the European Union seeking to punish the UK and, as a consequence, Northern Ireland is being used as a plaything.
“I can assure you, Northern Ireland should be nobody’s plaything.”
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