Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said the U.K. should suspend the free flow of goods across the Irish border in retaliation for a clumsy EU attempt to block vaccine exports to Britain.
Foster told BBC Radio 4 that the European Commission’s unilateral — albeit short-lived — suspension of the Northern Ireland post-Brexit trade protocol on Friday was an “absolutely incredible act of hostility.”
The EU quickly reversed its decision to use the emergency measure after protests from leaders in London, Dublin and Belfast. Nevertheless, Foster, who leads the Democratic Unionist Party, called the Commission’s move “disgraceful” and said it showed that arrangements for the Irish border under the Brexit deal must be reconsidered.
Later she told Ireland’s RTE: “The protocol is unworkable, let’s be very clear about that, and we need to see it replaced because otherwise there is going to be real difficulties here in Northern Ireland.”
The EU’s move led to immediate predictions it could inspire a push by Northern Ireland unionists to get various problems with the Irish Sea customs border canceled, by having the U.K. trigger the Article 16 emergency procedure.
The leader of Ireland’s Sinn Féin opposition Mary Lou McDonald tweeted Saturday afternoon: “Calls for a tit for tat invocation of article 16 by the British government are utterly reckless. The protections of the Irish protocol were hard won. No one should place those protections in jeopardy. Brexit causes real damage to Ireland we need to protect our island.”
The former top civil servant in the U.K.’s Department for Exiting the European Union, Philip Rycroft, told Sky News there was a “risk” that the EU had lowered the bar for invoking the article, thus weakening the Brexit deal.
“It was wholly disproportionate to what they were seeking to achieve — it was unnecessary. But it bears all the hallmarks for a bureaucracy that is under huge pressure, acting before it was thinking straight,” he said.
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