Ministers accuse EU of stoking fight over Northern Ireland protocol

Ministers accuse EU of stoking fight over Northern Ireland protocol because they are jealous of UK’s vaccine rollout as DUP says ‘belligerent’ Brussels doesn’t care about peace process

  • EU and UK engaged in bitter row over terms of Brexit deal for Northern Ireland
  • Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng suggested EU jealous of UK’s vaccine drive
  • DUP leader Arlene Foster accused the bloc of not caring about peace process 

Ministers have accused the EU of stoking the row over the Northern Ireland protocol because they are jealous of the UK’s vaccine rollout.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng linked the increasingly bitter row over the Brexit divorce terms to the contrasting performance on jabs.

He suggested that European politicians were ‘playing politics’ to distract attention from other problems, rather than being genuinely upset about Britain suspending parts of the protocol.

Meanwhile, DUP leader Arlene Foster has branded Brussels ‘belligerent’ and warned its treatment of Northern Ireland is putting peace at risk.

‘What they’re only interested in is protecting their bloc, they’re not interested, as they claim to be, in protecting the Belfast agreement,’ she said.

‘If they were, they would not be taking the action that they’re taking a present.’

The comments came as Brussels insisted it will launch legal action ‘very soon’ after the UK said it will unilaterally delay implementation of parts of the protocol.

Concerns have been rising about sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland amid the Brexit row  


Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng (right) linked the increasingly bitter row of the Brexit divorce terms to the contrasting performance on jabs. DUP leader Arlene Foster (left) has branded Brussels ‘belligerent’ and warned its treatment of Northern Ireland is putting peace at risk

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said the announcement by Government on Wednesday had come as a ‘very negative surprise’.

The Cabinet Office Minister Lord Frost said the UK was extending a series of ‘grace periods’ designed to ease trade between Northern Ireland – which remains in the EU single market for goods – and Great Britain while permanent arrangements are worked out.

It provoked a furious response in Brussels, with the EU accusing Britain of going back on its treaty obligations in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement intended to ensure there is no return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Sefcovic – who is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the agreement – said the European Commission was now working on ‘infringement proceedings’ against the UK.

‘We are currently preparing it and it would be really something coming to our table very soon. The most precise term I can give you is really very soon,’ he said.

But on BBC Question Time last night, Mr Kwarteng said the EU’s attitude had been ‘appallingly aggressive’ and the contrast on vaccines had a ‘lot of things to do with it’.

Asked whether the UK’s behaviour had contributed to the issues, he said: ‘I think the problems that the EU are having with the vaccine rollout where I think 40 per cent of adults in the UK have been vaccinated, whereas that figure in France is about 7 per cent – these are serious issues.’ 

Mr Kwarteng went on: ‘I think a lot of this is about the fact that there are people when you read the papers in Europe, there’s a lot of anger about the vaccine rollout, there was a headline in a German newspaper saying ‘We envy you’ – and the you was in English. there’s a real agitation about this and I think that people are playing politics with this. 

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said the announcement by Government on Wednesday had come as a ‘very negative surprise’

Pushed by presenter Fiona Bruce on whether it was purely driven by domestic political concerns, Mr Kwarteng said: ‘It’s a bit of both, but I think there is a domestic context. You’ve got a French general election, a presidential election this year. You’ve got German elections later this year.’ 

Boris Johnson sought to play down the dispute yesterday, saying the Government was simply taking some ‘temporary and technical measures’ to ensure that trade kept flowing.

‘I’m sure with a bit of goodwill and common sense all these technical problems are eminently solvable,’ he said on Thursday.

However MEPs in the European Parliament have already taken steps to delay formal ratification of the wider trade and co-operation agreement between Britain and the EU pending the outcome of the latest row.

The Northern Ireland protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement was designed by the EU and UK to avoid a hardening of the border on the island of Ireland.

It means keeping Northern Ireland aligned to various EU rules, requiring checks on goods arriving into the region from Great Britain.

Meanwhile the White House has again stressed the support of new US President Joe Biden for the Good Friday Agreement which the protocol is intended to protect.

Press secretary Jen Psaki said: ‘President Biden has been unequivocal about his support for the Good Friday Agreement.

‘It has been the bedrock of peace, stability and prosperity for all the people of Northern Ireland.’

Prior to last year’s election, Mr Biden – who is intensely proud of his Irish roots – warned the agreement must not become a casualty of Brexit.

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