The EU has lashed out at the UK for “battering” the Brexit deal, threatening to take action if London doesn’t get on board with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
In an exclusive interview, Ireland’s EU commissioner Mairead McGuinness told the Irish Independent the UK was “playing a very dangerous game” by inflaming tensions in the North.
She reserved particular ire for Britain’s Brexit minister, David Frost, who she said was trying to “wash his hands of” and “shred” a deal he helped to negotiate.
“You can’t wash your hands of an agreement that you shaped and made and signed,” Ms McGuinness told the Irish Independent in an interview.
“It just isn’t credible to do that. And I’m sure there are other countries, including the US, that are looking at what the UK are doing and maybe asking questions about the credibility of doing any deals with the United Kingdom.”
EU-UK relations reached a new low in March, after Mr Frost unilaterally extended grace periods on safety checks on certain foods being shipped from Britain to Northern Irish supermarkets.
Recently, he has criticised the Northern Ireland Protocol to the 2019 Brexit deal, which effectively keeps the country in the EU’s single market, calling it “unsustainable”.
“What we’re seeing is a negotiator now trying to turn the tables and say, maybe, that he wasn’t aware of the details that he was negotiating, or its impact, which is stretching credulity, frankly,” Ms McGuinness said.
“It doesn’t make any sense to argue that.”
EU and UK negotiators are currently trying to resolve a long list of issues, including new customs posts, pet passports and food exports from Britain to Northern Ireland.
The EU is downbeat about the potential for a deal at a crunch meeting between the EU’s Brexit commissioner, Maros Sefcovic, and Mr Frost next week.
“I don’t think any of us would have predicted on January 1 that we would be running into the sixth month and that the protocol would be taking a battering,” said Ms McGuinness.
“And it is being battered. And it’s being battered by the UK, who agreed to it.”
Ms McGuinness is also furious at the EU being portrayed in the British media as inflexible.
“We have jumped and somersaulted and worked night and day to square an impossible circle,” she said.
“There comes a point where we will not accept being attacked in the wrong and without justification. I think that’s a message that Lord Frost and the UK government need to understand. There comes a point in a relationship where if you’re not being treated with respect that you have to respond. And we’re nearly there.”
The 2019 Brexit deal and the recently approved trade agreement with the UK allows either side to suspend market access if the treaties are being breached.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said repeatedly that the EU will not hesitate to use the nuclear option if required.
The EU has also launched an infringement procedure against the UK for breaching the agreement, which could ultimately end up in a court case.