Brexit fury: EU accused of ‘driving wrecking ball’ through Northern Ireland’s economy

Arlene Foster says Sefcovic ‘had his head in the sand’

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DUP MLA Edwin Poots hit out at the bloc after the European Commission’s vice president Maros Sefcovic made clear in a letter to Michael Gove the EU sees the Northern Ireland Protocol as the only way forward. The protocol was designed to prevent a hard border with Ireland but has resulted in red tape for goods crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Writing on Twitter, Mr Poots blasted: “The EU seem determined to continue to drive a wrecking ball into the NI economy.

“It is particularly hard on small business and consumers many with low disposable income.”

Mr Sefcovic is due to meet Cabinet Office Minister Mr Gove in London today to discuss the protocol – which unionists are demanding is scrapped.

In his letter yesterday, Mr Sefcovic said: “The protocol is the solution agreed by the UK and the EU to these challenges: it is the only way to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement, preserving peace and stability and avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

“It is designed to ensure clarity and predictability for people and businesses, while minimising the disruption inevitably caused by the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

“It is a balanced outcome after years of difficult negotiations and is now our mutually agreed legal obligation.

“I therefore agree that our shared objective is to work tirelessly in order to make the protocol work.

“It requires full and faithful implementation by both parties.”

Tensions escalated last month when the EU briefly triggered Article 16 of the protocol in a row over coronavirus vaccine supplies.

The bloc was forced into a humiliating U-turn after sparking a fierce backlash from London, Belfast and Dublin.

Article 16 overrides part of the protocol which prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland but was intended as an emergency measure only.

A UK government spokesperson said it was “disappointing that the Commission has failed to acknowledge the shock and anger felt right across the community in Northern Ireland from its decision to trigger Article 16, and the need to take urgent steps to restore confidence as a result”.

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They added: “The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will underline the need for such action and political leadership in this regard when meeting with Vice-President Sefcovic in London.”

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster has insisted it is “important that we deal with” problems with the protocol.

She called on Mr Gove and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “act on” their unionist beliefs.

The DUP leader told ITV’s Peston programme: “I believe they are both unionists but it is important that they act on that now and it is important that they realise that part of the United Kingdom is being treated differently.

“And actually if you look at the protocol it talks about respecting the fact that the sovereign territory of the United Kingdom as one, it also talks about respecting the internal market of the United Kingdom.

“I don’t believe that the European Union is doing either of those things and so I believe it is up to our Government to challenge them on that and the fact that they are separating out Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.”

Mrs Foster added that the issues with the protocol are “fundamental”, adding: “You can’t even get a pot plant from Great Britain into Northern Ireland at the moment which is absolutely incredible.”

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