Controversial legislation that would allow UK ministers to take unilateral action against the Northern Ireland Protocol is “testing and weakening” the partnership between Britain and Ireland, the Irish Prime Minister has said.
In a speech to the British-Irish Association conference in Oxford, Micheal Martin warned that the move would bring “further instability” in Northern Ireland, saying it will hurt key sectors of the economy.
The UK government is pushing for its bill to give ministers powers to abolish controls on Irish Sea trade created by the post-Brexit protocol jointly agreed by the UK and EU as part of Brexit -withdrawal agreement to keep Ireland’s land border clear -fluent.
Martin said the unilateral action on the Troubles protocol and legacy legislation is “contrary to the spirit of partnership” of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Taoiseach also said Brexit has “fundamentally changed” the relationship between the UK and the EU.
“It is therefore critical that we navigate this undeniably difficult phase to build better relationships,” added Mr Martin.
“Like all long-term relationships, there are times when we don’t understand each other very well, maybe misunderstand each other’s actions and the resulting consequences, but in the end we both want and need to make it work.
“Unfortunately, unilateral action on the protocol and on the legacy is at odds with the spirit of partnership needed to underpin the Good Friday Agreement.
“It’s the testing and fraying of that partnership between us. It risks further instability in Northern Ireland and damage to key sectors of the economy.”
The Fianna Fail leader also noted that a new Conservative Party leader and prime minister will be confirmed on Monday.
He wished Boris Johnson’s successor the best in “challenging times”, Mr Martin said he wants to work with the next prime minister in an “open and constructive manner”.
“I sincerely believe that the EU would respond positively to a serious and sincere signal from the new British Prime Minister that their priority is to agree on the issues surrounding the implementation of the protocol,” he added.
“Brexit marked a fundamental change in the relationship between the EU and the UK, and the type of Brexit chosen by the UK government has fundamentally changed trade relations in these islands.
That made it imperative to find a new set of arrangements – one that would not and could not be a return to the trade arrangements in place before Brexit.
“I am very concerned about UK government legislation that would unilaterally reverse core elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“Concerned about what it means for the partnership approach we want to see between the EU and the UK; concerned about the broader message it sends about a rules-based international order; and especially concerned because it is not in the best interest of the people of Northern Ireland, nor is it in the interest of what they want.”
He also said the inability to form a devolved government in Northern Ireland was “detrimental” to the public.
He described it as a denial of the mandate given to political parties in the May elections.
“What we are facing is a political party’s decision not to participate in the Northern Ireland Executive, thereby harming the functioning of the Good Friday Agreement institutions. It’s unacceptable,” Martin added.
“I have been completely consistent on this matter and expressed my views in the same terms when Sinn Fein withdrew from the Executive in 2017.
“When the executive collapsed on previous occasions, the two governments and the political parties worked together to solve problems, make progress and restore the institutions.
“That should now be our approach as well, with issues related to the protocol being addressed in parallel through talks between the EU and the UK.”