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‘This is a British government that doesn’t necessarily keep its word’ – Leo Varadkar warns countries to be wary of deals with UK

EU to outline range of proposals aimed at resolving the political stand-off

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Credit: Jacob King/PA

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Credit: Jacob King/PA

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic. Picture: PA

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic. Picture: PA

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Credit: Jacob King/PA

Claims that the British government always intended to “ditch the bits we didn’t like” of the Withdrawal Agreement are “very alarming” and suggest a “British government that doesn’t necessarily keep its word”, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar said he hoped Dominic Cummings – former chief adviser to Boris Johnson – was not speaking for the British government but said his comments indicated a “government administration that acted in bad faith”.

In a barrage of tweets last night, Mr Cummins claimed Prime Minister Boris Johnson “hadn’t a scooby doo what the deal he signed meant” in relation to the Withdrawal Agreement and claimed he always planned to advise Mr Johnson to “ditch the bits we didn’t like” from the agreement.

The Tánaiste said if Mr Cummings’ comments are true, a message needs to be heard “around the world” that if the British government doesn’t honour its agreements and adhere to treaties it signs with respect to Brexit, “it must apply to everyone else too”.

“They [Britain] are going around the world at the moment and negotiating new trade agreements so surely the message must go out to all countries around the world that this is a British government that doesn’t necessarily keep its word and doesn’t necessarily honour the agreement it makes and you shouldn’t make any agreement with them until such a time you’re confident they will keep their promises and honour things, for example, like the protocol,” the Tánaiste said on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Mr Cummings’ latest intervention came after Brexit minister David Frost set out the UK’s demands for fundamental changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol contained in the agreement which Mr Johnson signed in January 2020.

He said that when Mr Johnson finally realised the true implications of the deal, he claimed he would never have agreed to it – although Mr Cummings said that was a lie.

During the election campaign, Mr Johnson repeatedly boasted that the “divorce” settlement he had negotiated with Brussels – including the Northern Ireland Protocol – was a “great” deal that was “oven ready” to be signed.

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Mr Cummings said: “What I’ve said does NOT mean ‘the PM was lying in General Election 2019’, he never had a scoobydoo what the deal he signed meant.

“He never understood what leaving Customs Union meant until November 2020.”

When the prime minister did finally comprehend, “he was babbling ‘I’d never have signed it if I’d understood it’ (but that WAS a lie)”.

The EU will later today outline a range of proposals aimed at resolving the political stand-off over the Northern Ireland Brexit Protocol.

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic has promised the measures will be "very far-reaching" and address issues over the movement of agri-food goods and medicines across the Irish Sea.

The EU is understood to be ready to offer to remove up to 50pc of customs checks on British goods entering Northern Ireland and that more than half the checks on meat and plants entering Northern Ireland would be ditched.

An EU official said: "Brussels is going to allow more goods to pass into Northern Ireland without checks in return for having more data to do proper market surveillance.

"The number of checks will go down massively. This is the best way to cut checks, short of a Swiss-style alignment agreement."

Mr Sefcovic has also pledged to offer more of a voice for politicians and civic society in Northern Ireland on how the contentious trading arrangements operate.

While the measures may potentially go some way to reducing everyday friction on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, they are unlikely to satisfy a UK government demand over the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Yesterday, Mr Frost made clear the removal of the ECJ's oversight function in relation to the protocol was a red line for the Government.

Under the terms of the deal struck by the UK and EU in 2019, the ECJ would be the final arbitrator in any future trade dispute between the two parties on the operation of the protocol.

The UK now wants to remove that provision and replace it with an independent arbitration process.

Mr Sefcovic has insisted that the EU will not move on the ECJ issue.

He has said that Northern Ireland would be unable to retain single market access a key provision of the protocol if the arrangement was not subject to oversight by European judges.

It is anticipated that the EU proposals, along with a wish list of reforms outlined by the Government in July, will form the basis of a new round of negotiations between Brussels and London in the weeks ahead.

The protocol was agreed by the UK and EU as a way to sidestep the major obstacle in the Brexit divorce talks – the Irish land border.

It achieved that by shifting regulatory and customs checks and processes to the Irish Sea.

The arrangements have created new economic barriers on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

This has caused disruption to many businesses in Northern Ireland and also created a major political headache for the Government, as unionists are furious at what they perceive as a weakening of the Union.

However, other businesses have benefited from the terms of the protocol, which provides Northern Ireland traders unique unfettered access to sell within the UK internal market and EU single market.

One way the EU could potentially reduce red tape on the movement of agri-food goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland would be to sanction a system that only applied checks to shipments at risk of onward movement into the Irish Republic.

Under such a system, a trusted trade scheme could allow retailers to declare that the final destination for goods being shipped from Great Britain was Northern Ireland.

Mr Sefcovic has already signalled that the EU is willing to change legislation to ensure no disruption of medical supplies into Northern Ireland.

Under the original terms of the protocol, the region was to fall within the EU regulatory zone for medicines from 2022 a move that would have restricted the ability to import products from Great Britain.


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