UK quitting EU single market ‘laid foundation’ for protocol, says German minister

The UK’s decision to leave the EU’s single market and custom union “laid the foundation” for the Northern Ireland Protocol, a German minister has said.

Foreign minister Annalena Baerbock made her remarks about Brexit during a trip to Ireland before a meeting with foreign secretary James Cleverly in London on Friday.

She said that she would be taking a message to London that a “good” solution could be negotiated on the protocol to ease Great Britain to Northern Ireland trade checks.

Speaking in Dublin, Ms Baerbock said there was “a window of opportunity” in EU-UK talks that “as I see it, we should all use and seize, all of us”.

But the minister made clear that “it was the decision of Great Britain to leave the single market and the customs union” – saying the “laid the foundation for the Northern Ireland Protocol”.

She also said the UK and the EU still had a responsibility to “protect and to implement” the protocol – warning that the Irish peace process was “at stake as a result of Brexit and its consequences for trade, freedom of movement and other issues”.

Ms Baerbock said that Ireland’s desire to “maintain and preserve” the free-flowing border between north and south should be respected, and that everyone must work together “to find a good solution”.

Negotiations are continuing between the EU and UK to iron out the protocol which will ease trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, particularly in relation to agri-checks.

If negotiations fail, the UK is expected to pass domestic legislation that will unilaterally override trading rules, a move which the EU has said would be in breach of international law.

“We want this to work for everyone,” said Ireland’s foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney. “Brexit forced change, some of that change is not welcome. But the protocol is not about one side winning over the other.

“The protocol is about trying to get a deal that all sides can live with and work to. It’s been a process that’s gone on for too long, but as a result I think everyone knows where the landing zones are.”

Mr Coveney said he trusts EU Commission Maros Sefcovic vice-president to negotiate a deal that Ireland would be happy with. “I certainly think if it’s good enough for the commissioner then it’s good enough for us.”

Ahead of his meeting with the German foreign minister, Mr Cleverly told the Die Welt newspaper that Germany’s commitment to the Northern Ireland Protocol was “an avatar”.

“I think often what people say they want and what people actually want are subtly different”, said the foreign secretary.

Meanwhile, Mr Cleverly said UK diplomats have too often been “commentators” on human rights abuse, saying he wanted to push his department into action rather than words.

“Our diplomats are not commentators offering thoughts and analysis; they are players on the pitch. Britain has agency and leverage and we are using it to shape the course of events,” he wrote in The Guardian.