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European Commission Vice President Maro Sefcovic called on Thursday for “honesty about what the [United Kingdom] signed up to” amid tensions about a trade agreement to avoid border checks on the island of Ireland.
“Honesty about the fact that the EU cannot solve all the problems created by Brexit and the type of Brexit that the [United Kingdom] government chose,” Sefcovic said speaking in Brussels before lawmakers from the EU and Britain.
Earlier on Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss repeated threats to override the Northern Ireland Protocol during a phone call with Sefcovic, in favour of a policy that would remove trade barriers between Britain and Northern Ireland.
Truss warned Britain “would have no choice but to act” if issues related to the trade agreement persisted in Northern Ireland and if the European Union failed to show “the requisite flexibility.” The EU had offered Britain “wide-ranging and impactful solutions,” but was still waiting for a response from the British government, Sefcovic said in a statement after the call.
Sefcovic insisted that the EU “will not renegotiate the protocol.” Tension escalated after the British newspaper “Telegraph” reported that Truss would prepare legislation to repeal the Northern Ireland Protocol if Brussels was not willing to renegotiate its terms.
The North Ireland Protocol was agreed to by the EU and London when Britain left the EU. Under its terms, Northern Ireland remains bound by EU customs rules, despite being part of Britain.
That was worked out to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland, because many feared that such a division could rekindle tensions that have been largely kept under control for two decades, following decades of bloody unrest.
As a consequence, goods have to be inspected between Britain and Northern Ireland, causing disruptions to business and angering the region’s Pro-British unionist community, which dislikes any hint it is being cut off from Britain.
The matter wasn’t an issue when Britain was in the EU, as trade could flow more or less freely from Britain to all parts of Ireland.
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