Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said the latest British government demands on Brexit are “very hard to accept” and insisted that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has to be the body that interprets European law and oversees the Single Market.
The UK’s lead negotiator on Brexit David Frost delivered a speech in Lisbon on Tuesday saying the British government is proposing a new legal text to replace the Northern Ireland Protocol, which he described as “a better way forward”.
Mr Frost said the Protocol “has to change”. He also warned that the UK could still trigger Article 16, a mechanism that can be used to suspend aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol.
The British government has taken issue with the role of the ECJ in ensuring compliance with the Northern Ireland protocol.
Mr Frost said he still sees room for a negotiation with the EU over how to address London’s concerns without triggering a larger trade war.
“There are several stages in this process where everybody can look carefully at it and decide to pull back from the brink,” he said.
The UK signed the protocol in good faith and hoped that the protocol would work effectively, Mr Frost said, adding that it has become clear that it’s not working as intended.
Mr Frost said he is sharing with the EU a new “forward-looking” Northern Ireland protocol, aimed at replacing the existing version – an agreement struck when the UK did not know whether it would sign a trade deal with the bloc.
The original protocol defaulted to “excessive rigidity,” Mr Frost said, which is now “needlessly harming” Northern Ireland. The protocol now needs to be brought into line with the comprehensive trade deal. He criticized the system of governance, with the ECJ at its apex.
“Our proposal looks more like a normal treaty in how its governed,” Mr Frost said.
“That may include using Article 16 if necessary,” Mr Frost said, referring to the mechanism that would suspend parts of the protocol. “We would not go down this road gratuitously or with any particular pleasure.”
The protocol is “the biggest source of mistrust between us,” Mr Frost declared, saying it has lost consent in part of Northern Ireland. “The protocol is not working.”
Mr Frost said the UK is never going to adopt the same level of border controls as the EU, because the government doesn’t believe the risks require them.
Mr Frost said that fixing the protocol is a “prerequisite” for getting to a better place in a relationship with the EU. And he said that Brexit has changed the UK’s international interests with Europe and beyond.
Mr Varadkar was asked for a response to Mr Frost’s speech at a post-budget press conference and whether it is red line not to remove the role of the ECJ.
He said he hasn’t seen the speech and could not speak for the European Union.
But he added: “What I can say is that our consistent position as the European Union and as the Irish Government is that the ECJ has to be the body that interprets European law and European standards.
“I don’t understand how a British court or any other court could do that.”
Earlier he said the protocol was designed to do three things – avoid a hard border in Ireland, protect the integrity of the EU’s single market and allow Northern Ireland to trade freely with both Britain and the EU.
He said some issues have arisen with the flow of goods to Northern Ireland from Britain and “we’re keen to resolve that as best we can”.
But he added: “Ultimately the role of the European Court of Justice is there to adjudicate for the rules of the Single Market.
“And I don’t think that we can ever have a situation where another court was deciding what the rules in the European Single Market are.
“I think that’s why it makes the most recent demands of the UK government very hard to accept”.
He also highlighted: “the trouble Britain has had getting goods into Britain, real shortages in England and now in Scotland and Wales ranging from petrol stations being closed to shelves not having goods on them because of Brexit.
“Actually the protocol has protected Northern Ireland from that. It has fewer supply issues than the rest of the United Kingdom.
Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern described the tactics of the UK’s Brexit negotiating team as “deplorable”.
The EU was trying to find solutions to the situation while it looked like “the representative from the UK was out to do everything to make life almost impossible,” Mr Ahern told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show.
“He might think that’s very smart negotiation, but I think it’s deplorable. In normal business people just don’t do things like that,” Mr Ahern said.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, will lay out his own proposal on Wednesday for tweaks to the Northern Ireland accord – a binding international treaty. – Additional reporting by Bloomberg