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Undermining the protocol can only do lasting harm



Micheál Martin speaking at the European Parliament yesterday. Photo: AP

Micheál Martin speaking at the European Parliament yesterday. Photo: AP

Micheál Martin speaking at the European Parliament yesterday. Photo: AP

Collaboration and partnership were key to the closeness developed by Britain and Ireland in recent decades. The lack of both now threaten a “historic low-point”. Such was the tenor of Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s address to MEPs.

He said London has shown “bad faith” in how it has approached the part of the Brexit treaty dealing with the North.

Any unilateral action to tear up the internationally binding agreement would be “deeply damaging”.

If there was a steely edge to Mr Martin’s remarks, one felt it was there to cut through the inappropriate flippant babble of nonsense and bombast surrounding the topic.

Despite the censorious tone, the Taoiseach felt there were solutions to the practical problems of the protocol.

He also detected the political will in Brussels.

Missing, he felt, were engagement, good faith and commitment from London.

“Unilateral action to set aside a solemn agreement would be deeply damaging. It would mark a historic low-point signalling a disregard for essential principles of laws which are the foundation of international relations” he said.

Downing Street has promised imminent legislation to remove trade border checks in the Irish Sea.

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Never mind that prime minister Boris Johnson agreed and signed off on them as the price for leaving the North within the EU’s single market and customs union territory.

It is widely felt the changes will go way beyond border controls. The European Court of Justice’s role in overseeing disputes is to be curtailed.

Central to Mr Martin’s address was the concern that the UK is not giving due consideration to the totality of what is involved in the Good Friday Agreement. It has proven itself to be a trusted and robust framework for protecting all interests and identities. Any irresponsible undermining can only do lasting harm.

It is fatuous to state – as many British government ministers have – that reasserting the primacy of the British market exclusively is of no consequence. London may insist it will not impose a border, but if it removes the agreed checks and controls, the EU may be compelled to. The preservation of the single market is fundamental to the existence of the EU, and, as Mr Martin stated, our membership of it over almost half-a-century has transformed our country. Our future is tied to it.

Mr Johnson needs to think again about the disruptive and destabilising forces he may be about to unleash. The omens are not encouraging. As Jonathan Swift lamented: “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.”

Unilateral UK action risks a retaliatory move by the EU, targeting trade and raising prices.

Brussels could suspend its trade agreement, freezing the privileged access UK companies have to the single market. Brexit has created enough culs-de-sac and blind alleys without leading us into more. We need to get back to a road map away from empty aspirations and unhelpful ultimatums.

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