The European Union cannot compromise on the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) under the Northern Ireland protocol, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said. Mr Coveney was speaking in Cardiff following British media reports that Boris Johnson and David Frost were willing to consider a reduced role for the ECJ under a revised protocol.
“I think what’s been agreed on the ECJ as regards the protocol is clear, that where EU law applies to the EU single market for goods, well then the arbiter of the implementation of EU rules and regulations has got to be the ECJ. It doesn’t work otherwise. The EU can never outsource the interpretation of EU law to a court in a third country. That could never be accepted. The British government know that only too well,” he said.
“So really, this is about trying to clarify for people where the ECJ is relevant and where it’s not. Because there are many areas where, of course, British courts in Northern Ireland are sovereign and will make decisions and are the appropriate arbiter. But there are also areas in the protocol that has been agreed where an EU court has got to interpret EU rules and regulations. And I don’t see how the EU can move away from that position.”
Mr Coveney was in Cardiff for the inaugural Ireland-Wales Forum, which he co-chaired with Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford, and for the opening of a new consulate general in the city. Mr Drakeford said the continuing friction between London and Brussels over the protocol was a cause for concern in Wales, which wanted to turn an outward-looking face to the world.
“The risk is that if the discussions over the protocol can’t be properly resolved, it has a chilling effect on a wider set of relationships. From our point of view, what we would like to see is the protocol successfully resolved, and then that to become a positive platform for strong relationships in which Wales can play our part with our nearest and most important neighbours,” he told The Irish Times.
During almost four hours of talks at the Welsh government building in Cathays Park, Mr Drakeford and Mr Coveney discussed how to deepen co-operation on political, economic and environmental issues. Mr Drakeford said they spent much of the time talking about climate change and about how they could work together to exploit the possibilities for renewable energy in the Irish Sea and the Celtic Sea.
“What can we do in terms of the work our universities are jointly doing just to help us map it?” he said.
“There’s a lot of simple sharing of information, sharing research possibilities, jointly funding some of that. We talked a lot about how you engage the public in some of these things.”
They also discussed the plight of Welsh ports, which have seen the volume of trade with Ireland fall significantly since Brexit became a reality at the start of the year. Mr Drakeford said that, although he and Mr Coveney agreed that the landbridge across Britain was the fastest and most efficient route for Irish goods, it is not working properly.
“The fear from a Welsh perspective is that because there is insufficient certainty, firms make second best arrangements by the time the landbridge is properly working again, they will have invested in other, second-best arrangements,” he said.
Mr Coveney noted that there were now 44 direct routes a week between Ireland and continental Europe and that what was needed was greater certainty about how Brexit and the trade and co-operation agreement (TCA) would work.
“Until that certainty happens, I think that businesses will vote with their feet and they will invest in supply chain routes where they know they can have certainty for six or 12 months out. And that’s the real challenge for Wales,” he said.