NI Protocol: Consensus from Brussels, Dublin and London that changes are needed on Irish Sea Border

A consensus has emerged from Brussels, Dublin and London that significant change is needed regarding the NI Protocol.

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 6:09 pm
Updated Friday, 14th May 2021, 9:48 am
Loyalists take part in a peaceful protest in the Shore Road area of North Belfast in opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Loyalists take part in a peaceful protest in the Shore Road area of North Belfast in opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

There have been many protests across NI since Easter against the arrangement, some violent. Eight leading unionists who negotiated the Belfast Agreement have called for it to be suspended, though nationlists strongly support it.

Baroness Hoey warned UK Brexit Negotiator Lord Frost recently in the Lords about the risk of further street violence this summer linked to the protocol, and met with him privately two weeks ago.

“I am optimistic that we will get rid of the protocol,” she said yesterday. She noted that the legal challenge to the protocol by an alliance of all unionist parties starts today in the High Court.

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”I think that anyone that listens to John Larkin QC’s opening argument will find it very interesting,” she said.

Broadcaster Stephen Nolan also said yesterday that the protocol could end. A senior government source told him people are “underestimating how quickly Boris Johnson might pull the protocol”.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said this week that Brussels is “very much aware” of the need for solutions before the start of the NI marching season.

Speaking after a meeting with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, Mr Coveney said: “I think there is a pressure that we find a way to come up with solutions by some point in June, and I think the Commission is very much aware of that and I’m sure the British government is too.”

David Campbell, chairman of the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), said he detected “a huge change” when he met the government this week on the issue.

“Up to now both governments have consistently rebutted the idea that the protocol breaches the [Belfast] Agreement,” he said. “But when we put these same arguments forward this week there was no rebuttal whatsoever from the Secretary of State or Lord Frost... it was a definite change from where they had been two or three weeks ago.”

Several senior unionists claimed yesterday the UK strategy had been to wait until the UK-EU trade deal was ratified - just over two weeks ago - and then aggressively challenge the protocol.  

“I do think Frost’s whole body language in our meeting and the fact that he was very forthright were significant,” Mr Campbell added.

He believes Lord Frost was particularly impacted by LCC members who told how they “risked their own safety” to try and calm recent riots.

After hearing this, he said, Lord Frost had responded: “I needed to hear this - but the European Commission needs to hear it as well”.

Ten Downing Street said yesterday the arrangements “will only last” with cross-community consent.

It said: “The protocol is designed to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions and preserve the gains of the peace process. It is important that solutions are found so that the protocol delivers on these objectives. The arrangements for NI will only last if there is cross-community confidence and consent in the arrangements. All sides need to be practical, pragmatic and work to sustain that confidence”.

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