What’s the story?

BORIS Johnson and the UK Government have been condemned by leaders from both the Republic of Ireland and Germany over plans to override the Northern Ireland protocol, a move for which the prime minister has been warned there is “no legal or political justification”.

In a joint statement published in the Observer newspaper, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock and her Irish equivalent Simon Coveney (below) accuse the UK Government of “unilaterally breaking an international agreement”, which they contend would undermine the “rules-based international order” whilst Europe is attempting to grapple with the ongoing war in Ukraine.

The National: Ireland’s Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney

Legislation allowing the UK to dump the Brexit arrangements which Johnson had previously agreed passed the first stage in the House of Commons last week, with MPs voting 295 to 221. However, more than 70 MPs abstained or were given permission to miss the vote, while former prime minister Theresa May described the proposals as illegal.

What does the statement say?

The latest intervention from the Irish and German ministers argues that the people of Northern Ireland “want certainty, stability and predictability”, and that this has been demonstrated by the recent Northern Irish Assembly elections, which delivered 52 MLAs out of 90 which are supportive of the protocol.

“Unfortunately,” the statement continues, “the British government chose not to engage in good faith with these proposals. Instead of the path of partnership and dialogue, the British government has chosen unilateralism. There is no legal or political justification for unilaterally breaking an international agreement entered into only two years ago. The tabling of legislation this month will not fix the challenges around the protocol. Instead, it will create a new set of uncertainties and make it more challenging to find durable solutions.

“We urge the British government to step back from their unilateral approach and show the same pragmatism and readiness to compromise that the EU has shown. By working together – in partnership and with mutual respect – common ground can be found and challenges, no matter how difficult, can be overcome.”

Does the statement reflect a European strategy?

The statement follows comments by Germany’s ambassador the EU late last month, confirming that member-states will not change the mandate of chief negotiator Maroš Šefčovič to renegotiate the Northern Ireland protocol, which the EU was unanimous in believing should not be altered. The ambassador added that the coalition under German Chancellor Olaf Scholz would be taking a tougher line on the Protocol than his predecessor Angela Merkel.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar warned on Friday that the UK Government has made “shocking” blunders over Northern Ireland and that he that he found it “shocking and hard to accept” that Downing Street would attempt to unilaterally change the protocol. He said: “What the British government is doing now is very undemocratic and very disrespectful to people in Northern Ireland because it’s taking that power away from the assembly.”

Varadkar added that “it is not normal for a democratic government in a respected country to sign a treaty and then try to pass domestic legislation to override it".