Protocol issues ‘could be resolved if UK worked with EU’, says McDonald

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Mary Lou McDonald (Rebecca Black/PA)
Mary Lou McDonald (Rebecca Black/PA)

Outstanding issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol “could be overcome if the British Government worked in partnership with the EU”, Mary Lou McDonald has said.

However, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has urged the UK government to honour its commitment to protect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.

Talks between the UK and EU are continuing over post-Brexit arrangements.

The EU’s chief negotiator Maros Sefcovic indicated a “changing tone” in discussions following a meeting with Lord Frost on Friday.

However a UK Government spokesman said: “Lord Frost noted that there remained significant gaps to be bridged between the UK and EU positions.”

EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic (Hollie Adams/PA) (PA Wire)
EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic (Hollie Adams/PA) (PA Wire)

There has been strong opposition by unionists and loyalists in Northern Ireland to the post-Brexit trading arrangements which see the region effectively remaining within EU customs rules to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Sir Jeffrey has threatened to withdraw his party’s ministers from the Stormont Executive if progress is not made over the protocol, arguing unionists cannot be expect to participate in institutions that are implementing a protocol that is harming the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

On Friday, he welcomed a “more positive tone from the EU”, but urged a “sharper focus now on finding a solution that deals with the problems that have been created by this entirely unacceptable Irish Sea border”.

“The Government has made clear that the conditions have already been met to trigger Article 16, and for the UK to take unilateral action to address the difficulties created by the protocol and to replace it with new arrangements that protect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market,” he said.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

“That is a key commitment that the UK Government gave in the New Decade, New Approach agreement and we need to see that honoured, either in an agreement with the EU that removes this Irish Sea border, or in unilateral action by the UK Government triggering Article 16 and restoring Northern Ireland’s place fully in the UK internal market.

“Time is of the essence, it’s time for focus now, we need to see solutions, less of the rhetoric and let’s get to where we need to get to, and that is to remove the Irish Sea border and restore Northern Ireland’s place fully within the UK internal market.”

Meanwhile speaking to media in Co Armagh following a meeting with a logistics firm, Ms McDonald called for “less brinkmanship, less of the bad faith and the belligerence from the British Government”.

“We need them to work in partnership with the European institutions,” the Sinn Fein president said.

“I have to say that our analysis is that the difficulty has come from the British Government, who regard Ireland, and the north of Ireland in particular, as collateral damage in their Brexit game. That is not good enough.

The ball is firmly in the court of Boris Johnson and his Government and we need to see him and them finally act in partnership, in good faith and with goodwill

Mary Lou McDonald

“The issues that arose with the protocol have answers, have solutions, I think the European Commission has moved considerably to provide those answers.

“Now the ball is firmly in the court of Boris Johnson and his Government and we need to see him and them finally act in partnership, in good faith and with goodwill.

“If those things prevail we can find the answers, not just to medicine, but to all of the other outstanding issues.”

Ms McDonald said there was “no reason” for the British Government to trigger Article 16.

“The negotiations for the Withdrawal Agreement and the new trading arrangements and the protocol ran to the 11th hour and that happened because the British Government made a decision to negotiate in that way, right up until the last moment,” she said.

“There is no reason to trigger Article 16. We have a joint committee, we have the mechanisms to deal with issues as they arise.

“The evidence is clear now, all across Ireland and in the north of Ireland, that the vast, vast majority of people and businesses recognise the need for the protocol and they want it to work.”

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