Brexit: EU 'not looking for political victory' on protocol

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MarosImage source, Brian Lawless
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European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic ended his two-day visit to Northern Ireland

The EU is not looking for a "political victory" on the protocol, the European Commission vice president has said.

Speaking at the conclusion of a two-day visit to Northern Ireland, Maros Sefcovic was reflecting on his talks with Stormont politicians.

"I want to find a solution which would represent win-win - victory for all, first and foremost for the people of Northern Ireland," he said.

"That's my attitude. That's my approach."

The UK wants the Northern Ireland Protocol, which puts a trade border in the Irish Sea, changed.

Unionists believe it undermines their place in the United Kingdom and want it to be scrapped.

Mr Sefcovic made his comments during a press conference on Friday afternoon, having earlier made a speech at Queen's University in Belfast.

He said the main take away from his exchanges in Northern Ireland was the need for "stability and predictability".

On Thursday, Mr Sefcovic called on politicians to "dial down the rhetoric" on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

It came after Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson warned that his party may quit Stormont "within weeks" if its protocol demands were not met.

Responding to the remarks made by the European Commission vice-president, Sir Jeffrey said he acknowledged it was Mr Sefcovic's job to protect "the integrity of the EU single market".

"But I think it's unfortunate that Mr Sefcovic would be so dismissive of the real and genuine concerns that there are out there," said Sir Jeffrey.

"I think that the meeting that we had yesterday with him was much more constructive and what I had to say yesterday reflects the concerns of many people in Northern Ireland.

"It is not mere rhetoric, it is articulating the views and concerns of unionists."


During his speech at Queen's, Mr Sefcovic said the EU and UK will both need to make further compromises on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He hinted that the EU will bring forward fresh ideas to ease the movement of goods across the Irish Sea.

Mr Sefcovic pointed to a bigger consultative role for Northern Ireland's politicians.

"Let's see what can be done to further ease the supply of goods," he said.

Image source, Peter Morrison
Image caption,
Mr Sefcovic said he wanted a win-win situation for all on the Northern Ireland Protocol

"And let's see how to involve the people of Northern Ireland in our discussions on the implementation of the protocol."

'Fine tooth comb'

Mr Sefcovic said in recent months EU officials "have been going through our rules with a fine tooth comb" to look for "creative and solid new solutions".

However, he cautioned that the new barriers created by Brexit and the protocol could not be removed entirely.

"While we will continue looking for solutions to minimise the effects of Brexit on your every day lives, we will never be able to remove them entirely - such are the consequences of Brexit and of the choices of the UK government."

Mr Sefcovic also warned the UK government that its aim to remove the European Court of Justice (ECJ) from the governance of the protocol would not be possible.

"I believe that our focus should be on those issues that matter the most to the people of Northern Ireland, and not on requests, such as removing the role of the European Court of Justice," he said.

"Doing this would effectively mean cutting Northern Ireland off the EU's Single Market and related opportunities."

Mr Sefcovic was in Northern Ireland to meet political, business and civic leaders.

Technical discussions between the UK and EU on an agri-food agreement have reached a stalemate.

The EU has offered the UK a Swiss-style deal which would involve the UK following EU rules.

The UK has rejected that and instead asked for a deal in which the EU would recognise UK standards as equivalent to its own.

An EU official has suggested the issue could be unlocked with a bespoke arrangement which recognises Northern Ireland's unique circumstances.

It is not yet clear what such an arrangement might involve and the EU is wary that the UK would demand the same deal for GB-EU agri-food trade.