DUP MP Gregory Campbell has said that the Northern Ireland protocol “in and of itself is providing insurmountable barriers politically, legally and in terms of trade” and it needs to be “replaced and not just tinkered [with] at the edges”.
In an interview on Saturday with Philip Boucher-Hayes on RTÉ Radio 1, Mr Campbell described the situation as a “bit of a mess” and said that Britain hadn’t acted as an “honest broker” in establishing the protocol.
“If you look back a couple of years our own [the UK] government and the EU entered in to intensive discussions and the protocol was the end result of those discussions. There were a number of us who said: ‘This isn’t going to work, this is going to create huge problems.’
“Initially there was the dismissal of that stance and some of the other parties were talking about the rigid implementation of that protocol. I think in the months that followed everyone saw some of the problems. The product lines of many stores were reduced because we couldn’t get goods across.
“There were these ludicrous checks on goods that couldn’t possibly go in to the EU single market. And there was just a complicated series of problems that flowed from the protocol which I think are only being brought to a head now. And I would rather that they be brought to a head now than this linger on and the problems get worse.”
The Northern Ireland protocol, a part of the EU-UK Brexit withdrawal agreement that guarantees a special post-Brexit trading status for the North in order to prevent a hard Border in Ireland and secure peace on the island. The protocol has become the source of political tensions for some unionists, and between the EU and the UK amid outstanding issues over its implementation.
The ongoing tensions have created an impasse in efforts to form a devolved government administration in Belfast, with the DUP refusing to join an executive unless its concerns over the protocol are addressed.
Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill has accused the DUP of “denying democracy” in response.
Earlier this month, prominent US congressmen Bill Keating and Brendan Boyle sent a strongly worded letter to British foreign secretary Liz Truss warning against any unilateral move by the British government to override parts of the protocol and stating that the majority of those elected in Northern Ireland supported working within the parameters of the protocol.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said this week he believed the issues in relation to the protocol could be resolved but the UK government kept moving the goalposts regarding its position.
He said the EU “wants to resolve this” and wanted to engage in “meaningful negotiations” with the UK government and did not accept the proposition that the EU had not been flexible on the protocol.
‘Not an honest broker’
Mr Campbell on Saturday said Britain hadn’t acted as an honest broker in establishing the protocol.
“I don’t think that they acted as [an] honest broker in establishing the protocol after [British PM] Boris Johnson saying that there wouldn’t be a border in the Irish Sea. And now there quite obviously is one, hopefully soon to be dealt with. I don’t think you could regard him or the government as honest brokers to date.”
Mr Campbell added that using the prospect of a hard Border in order to try and create an Irish Sea border was “beyond belief”.
“And your former taoiseach [Leo Varadkar] did that . . . when he took the famous or infamous copy of The Irish Times with the burned-out customs post to [French president Emmanuel] Macron and [former German chancellor Angela] Merkel and said: ‘We don’t want to go back to that’: when that is not going to happen.
“We have got to assist the EU in devising a system where they can be sure their EU single market is protected, where Northern Ireland’s place within the UK single market is also protected.” Additional reporting: PA