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Border protocol is not a game – lives and livelihoods are in balance



European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic. Photo: Olivier Hoslet/Pool via Reuters

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic. Photo: Olivier Hoslet/Pool via Reuters

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic. Photo: Olivier Hoslet/Pool via Reuters

Break-ups are never easy. Mae West knew what she was on about when she said: “All discarded lovers should be given a second chance, but with someone else.”

The EU and the UK are now in the period when the passions stirred by a bitter separation have had a chance to settle, yet there is no sign of reasonable, rational engagement. It’s in the interests of both sides to recognise a “second chance” is the only logical way out.

Lord Palmerston’s observation – “We have not eternal allies and we have not perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual and those interests it is our duty to follow” – is as relevant today as it was 150 years ago.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is right to call for cool heads as the rift widens between London and Brussels over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Martin reiterated what is becoming too well-worn a phrase, “to dial down the rhetoric”.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic has accused the UK of failing to implement its obligations under the agreement.

He has also ruled out any prospect of sweeping changes. EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, for his part, has said the problem was the UK’s exit from the bloc, not the protocol agreed between the two sides over their divorce.

“The difficulties on the island of Ireland are caused by Brexit, not by the protocol,” he said.

The EU is adamant any future flexibility must hinge on the UK complying with what was already agreed. However, London has demanded sweeping changes. The EU feels there is little point in committing to alter an existing agreement that has yet to be properly implemented.

But a hardening of positions is not going to help.

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The view is the UK has attempted to exploit the controversy over the commission’s move to trigger Article 16 of the protocol on January 29 in order to force changes to it.

What Brussels regards as “teething problems” – which should be addressed through a joint committee set up to resolve such issues – London regards as red lines.

Some alignment with the new paradigm is inescapable.

In London, a UK government spokesperson said: “It is disappointing that the commission has failed to acknowledge the shock and anger felt right across the community in Northern Ireland from its decision to trigger Article 16, and the need to take urgent steps to restore confidence as a result.”

The EU feels London is over-playing its hand. But this was never a game.

Lives and livelihoods are in the balance.

When the dynamics of a relationship change, its boundaries do also.

Brexit weakened the bloc and Brussels will not yield a further competitive edge.

Co-operation will profit both, just as confrontation will cause lasting harm.

No side can be tone deaf but nor can they be blind to the fact Brexit “uncut” would always be very different to the fantasy island version.

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