EU negotiations with the UK over the Northern Ireland Protocol may end at the end of the year if no progress is being made, Simon Coveney has warned.
he Minister for Foreign Affairs said there is only a finite “window” within which the EU is willing to find solutions to the problems caused by the post-Brexit agreement in place for Northern Ireland.
The EU and UK are set for an intense round of negotiations in the coming weeks after European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic last week unveiled a range of proposals aimed at cutting the red tape the protocol has imposed on moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
However, the plan did not address a key UK demand – the removal of the oversight function of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the operation of the protocol.
Mr Coveney, speaking from Wales where he attended the inaugural Wales-Ireland Forum on Friday, said he believed a deal was possible, but negotiations could not continue forever.
“I think EU has shown a real appetite for compromise, and they have consciously avoided creating tension. I can’t say the same in terms of the British government’s approach,” he said.
“I think that window is on offer now to the British government if they want to use it to find a way of implementing the protocol in a way that responds to the vast majority of the issues and problems that have been raised.
“It’s up to the UK government, I think, to take that window and we’ll have to wait and see how that progresses in the next few weeks.
“I can’t tell you when the EU will decide that that approach is getting us nowhere if there’s no agreement.
“But certainly I think there’s a window between now and late December, when the EU, I think, will be open to continuing dialogue and trying to find a way of making this work.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed by the UK and EU as a way to sidestep the creation of a border on the island of Ireland.
It achieved that by shifting regulatory and customs checks and processes to the Irish Sea.
The arrangements have created new economic barriers on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, while unionists and loyalists have objected to what they perceive as a weakening of the Union.
Mr Coveney said he didn’t believe there was an appetite in the EU to re-write an international agreement.
“Who knows where this goes if we move into the new year and we’re still not making any progress and the asks coming from the British side continue to be an ask to rewrite an international agreement, as opposed to look for flexibilities within it,” he said.
Mr Coveney said that negotiations will continue in the coming weeks between the UK and the EU, but stressed that Boris Johnson’s administration had a choice to make.
He said that frustrations remain about the fact the role of the ECJ has become a red line.
“My personal view on it is that British government do want to get a deal at some point but I do think that the way in which they’re approaching these negotiations is a strange way to show it.”
“Do the British government want a partnership that can settle these issues in a way that deals with the pragmatic problems and concerns that have been expressed in Northern Ireland, or do they want to continue to drag this issue out with all of the risks that comes with that?”
“I don’t think it will be the case forever, that the EU will be in compromise and solutions mode.”