The United Kingdom’s government has demanded the European Union re-negotiate post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland after rioting and business disruption hit the restive province.
But the European Commission immediately poured cold water on the plea on Wednesday, saying Britain had to respect its international obligations. The EU has long insisted that it is up to London to implement what it agreed in their drawn-out Brexit divorce.
London had stopped short of suspending the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, which requires checks on goods crossing over from mainland Britain.
But Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told parliament on Wednesday that while the UK had negotiated the protocol “in good faith”, its real-world application by the EU had entailed “considerable and continuing burdens”.
“Put simply, we cannot go on as we are,” he said.
Rather than ad hoc grace periods for border checks, Lewis said the UK was seeking a “standstill period” for the protocol including legal action by the EU.
He pressed for a new dialogue “that deals with the problems in the round”.
“We urge the EU to look at it with fresh eyes and work with us to seize this opportunity and put our relations on a better footing.”
The protocol was painstakingly negotiated to avoid a hard border with Ireland, by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market.
The European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said on Wednesday the bloc will seek “creative solutions” to difficulties in trade between Britain and Northern Ireland caused by Brexit, but will not renegotiate the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland.
“We are ready to continue to seek creative solutions, within the framework of the Protocol, in the interest of all communities in Northern Ireland. However, we will not agree to a renegotiation of the Protocol,” he said.
Northern Ireland, which suffered thirty years of sectarian conflict until a peace agreement in 1998, has been rocked by unrest this year, in part against the protocol.
Many pro-UK unionists see it as creating a de facto border in the Irish Sea with mainland Britain and say they feel betrayed.
In its proposals, Britain urged the EU to stop broad checks and focus more squarely on goods “genuinely” at risk of entering its single market via Northern Ireland.
The government insisted that for all other goods, a light touch was needed to preserve Northern Ireland’s integral status as part of the UK.
It also wants the removal of