Boris Johnson has told his Dublin counterpart that “pragmatism” is needed to mend the issues being caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol, as the UK prepares to announce its own proposed solution.
In a phone call with Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin on Tuesday, the Prime Minister called for the European Union to have an open mind to possible solutions required to address the “serious challenges” to trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The men had been due to meet in person in the UK, until Mr Johnson was told to self-isolate after coming into close contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for coronavirus at the weekend.
The Protocol was negotiated as part of Britain’s divorce from Brussels to avoid a hard border with Ireland, by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.
But the introduction of checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea has angered Unionists, arguing the Brexit terms have weakened Northern Ireland’s links with the rest of the UK.
Leading supermarkets at the weekend hit out over fears of the impact on supply lines into the region once various grace periods on checks end, while businesses based in Great Britain are said to have given up on sending goods into Northern Ireland due to rising costs and red tape.
Brexit minister Lord Frost and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis are due to announce to peers and MPs respectively on Wednesday the UK’s proposals for fixing the Protocol.
In a readout of Mr Johnson’s conversation with Mr Martin, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister emphasised that the way the Protocol is currently operating is causing significant disruption for the people in Northern Ireland.
“He made clear the UK Government’s commitment to protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions.
“He said the EU must show pragmatism and solutions needed to be found to address the serious challenges that have arisen with the Protocol.
“The Prime Minister said that the UK Government would outline its approach on the Northern Ireland Protocol to Parliament tomorrow.”
The Taoiseach told Mr Johnson that the proposals would be “carefully considered” and stressed the “EU-UK framework for issues related to the Protocol”, according to the Irish Government.
Lord Frost, who negotiated the Protocol during talks with the EU, told Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee on Monday that ministers were “keeping all options on the table” to resolve issues with the Protocol, including triggering a clause which would allow the unilateral overruling of the agreement.
During their call, the leaders also discussed the pandemic and the UK’s proposals on addressing the Troubles legacy in Northern Ireland, which the Irish premier has called “wrong”.
“The Taoiseach also raised legacy issues, including serious concerns at the British Government’s proposals. He emphasised that there can be no pre-determined outcome to the consultation process currently under way,” a statement from the Irish side said.
Mr Lewis last week announced plans to create a statute of limitations ending all prosecutions for incidents up to April 1998.
The legislation would apply to military veterans as well as ex-paramilitaries, and would also end all legacy inquests and civil actions related to the conflict.
The No 10 spokeswoman added: “The Prime Minister stressed that the current focus on criminal justice is not working for anyone and looked forward to further engagement with the Irish Government, parties in Northern Ireland and others on the UK’s proposals.”
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