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'Trust is fundamental and we're extremely concerned' - Taoiseach to speak with Boris Johnson over Withdrawal Agreement

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Taoiseach Micheál Martinin said: "In Europe there is a lot of anger towards this and the manner in which it happened. In Ireland there clearly is" Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Taoiseach Micheál Martinin said: "In Europe there is a lot of anger towards this and the manner in which it happened. In Ireland there clearly is" Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Taoiseach Micheál Martinin said: "In Europe there is a lot of anger towards this and the manner in which it happened. In Ireland there clearly is" Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Taoiseach Micheál Martin will speak this afternoon to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the “unacceptable” new departure from international law by the UK.

He said he spoke last night to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and both agreed it was a “very serious” development.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis “didn’t display any subtlety” in announcing the British intention to break international law, and there had been no advance “heads up” to Ireland.

He would “make clear our position” in that phone call, the Taoiseach said, in particular about the unilateral nature of the move, its illegality, and how it undermined trust and international agreements.

“The Irish Government has to make it clear that there are basic principles that apply in how we conduct our relationship,” he said.

It was particularly regrettable that Northern Ireland was being “dragged back into it” when Stormont was operating with commendable unity of purpose. The move “has the potential to create further tensions,” he warned.

The Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, told RTÉ's Morning Ireland the British move had “certainly set off alarm bells in Dublin,” but added: “I think they're backfired.

“We have seen the response of the Northern Ireland parties representing the majority of people in the north, which has been very negative. We've seen the response from the European Union, we've seen the response from US Congress and Irish America.

“I think Governments are scratching their heads around the world wondering whether they should ever enter into treaties or contracts with the British Government if this is their attitude.”

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Mr Martin said it immediately struck him on hearing Mr Lewis admit to breaking international law in the House of Commons that this was “a new departure” that Ireland had not been told about.

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney added that the EU task force had not been told in advance either, and there had been “no reach out,” which was an extraordinary way to approach negotiations.

“Trust is the most important component in terms of getting the right outcome,” he said.

The Taoiseach agreed: “Trust is fundamental. And we're extremely concerned about the unilateral nature of the British Government's action and decision, which has the capacity to undermine progress in the negotiations.

“This initiative does not build trust and I will be speaking later this afternoon with the British Prime Minister to register our very strong concerns about this latest development, and in particular the unilateral nature of it, and the fact that fundamentally is seeking to deviate from what is an agreed international treaty.”

Mr Martin said he believed the move had “taken a lot of people aback across Europe, and United Kingdom itself.” It was not an acceptable way to conduct negotiations.

“I spoke with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and we both agreed that this is a very serious development.

“We will work in concert with the European Union colleagues, and we take it step by step, but it's the nature of it that is not conducive to conducting negotiations.

“In addition, I would say also it is very regrettable the degree to which it drags Northern Ireland back onto centre stage, and it has the potential to be divisive in that context. I want to make sure that that doesn't transpire.”

"Perfidious Albion is alive and well and living at No. 10 Downing Streeet," Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald told the Dáil.

The Northern Ireland protocol was the "bare minimum needed" to protect the Good Friday Agreement and to prevent any hard border on the island of Ireland, she said.

Boris Johnson's position was "stupid and dangerous," she told the Taoiseach, and it showed the extent to which Boris Johnson was prepared to go to satisfy "Tory Brexiteers and blunt English nationalism."

She also accused Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis of falsely assuring Michelle O'Neill, the Deputy First Minister, that the Internal Markets Bill had no implications for the Northern Ireland protocol.

On Monday evening he had told her that the legislation would have no implications for the existing agreement and protocol. But 24 hours later, on Tuesday, he "took to his feet and said the precise opposite," Ms McDonald said.

She told Mr Martin that the British move was not a "new departure," but had many precedents. She said: "In you conversation with him you need to dispense with diplomatic niceties and set out the position. You might also remind him that the North voted No (in the Brexit referendum)_, she said.

"We cannot afford to have hesitancy or a lack of force and rigour," she said, telling Mr Martin he should have contacted the British Prime Minister earlier.

But Mr Martin scolded her that she should not attempt to divide the House on this issue. "We are not going to be embroiled in their difficulty; you do not just jump into something," Mr Martin said. But Ireland's position would be made quite clear.

Ms McDonald said the Secretary of State had declared that Britain would be proceeding to break international law, and was doing so "with its eyes wide open."

There was already sense in Northern Ireland that the practical effect or reality of the Withdrawal Agreement “has been accepted, notwithstanding people's political objections.”

Mr Martin indicated the Government still did not have full sight of the draft Bill or a clear understanding of all the implications of the move for the Northern Ireland protocol, but would be watching very closely.

“Of course there are issues around the working through of the protocol in terms of State aid and in whole area of trading generally, but that's all to be worked out in the negotiations.”

The British action “does raise a whole range of issues, but I'm not going to speculate on the motivation,” Mr Martin said.

“But suffice to say this that all of us, as politicians in the UK Government, the Irish Government and European Union, have fundamental obligations to the people we serve to protect their jobs and quality.”

A no-deal Brexit “will damage livelihoods, will damaged jobs, and will damage the UK economy, The Irish economy and European Union economy.”

He said he had consistently asked the British Prime Minister “to think of the people we serve, and to protect them, their jobs and employment. That must be the overall motivation here.

“Where there's a will, there's a way to getting a reasonable deal.”

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly told the Taoiseach to "publicly call out" the British Prime Mister. "You need to stand up and call this out for what it is," he said.

"I don't trust Boris Johnson - I know you can't say that, but you more or less have to, in diplomatic language, because this is unprecedented."

Never before had our nearest neighbour treated an Irish Government as the Johnson administration had done in the past 48 hours, Mr Kelly said.

"Given the type of character he (Mr Johnson) is, I think he will only react to one thing, and that is being called out quite publicly.

"This is a very important moment for you as Taoiseach. This is possibly the most important moment in some ways. The only pressure that works on this prime minister, given his behaviour, is pressure that will impact on him domestically.

"Tell him straight up. The British Prime Minister is behaving in a way that is reprehensible.

"You will be doing Europe and the whole world a favour."

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she had rung Downing Street on Monday in an attempt to protest the move. "But I am not the Head of Government," she added pointedly.

She added that Boris Johnson, if he got away with walking away from the Northern Irish protocol, "will feel emboldened to walk away from the whole lot."

Solidarity PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the Taoiseach had been snubbed and needed to be very tough with the prime minister, and there was never a better time to make the case for "an end to partition," because of this "British imperial arrogance."


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