The UK government has “absolutely the right” to destroy parts of Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade deals, Kwarsi Kwarteng insisted.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday, the business secretary also accused Brussels of being “irrational” in its approach to renegotiating the Northern Ireland Protocol.
But Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said “sabre-slashing” and “arrogance” at Westminster was not how matters would be resolved and that the UK unilaterally making changes would be a violation of international law.
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He highlighted that his country was also “frustrated” in dealing with the consequences of the Brexitwhich he said cost hundreds of millions of euros and threatened the peace process.
he comes like Boris Johnson is due to travel to Belfast on Monday for crisis talks following the DUP blocked the formation of a new power-sharing government in Stormont in protest of protocol.
Trade unionists are bitterly opposed to the deal as it requires checks on goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland in order to keep the Irish border open in accordance with the Good Friday peace deal.
But Sinn Fein – which is now the biggest party in Northern Ireland’s Assembly after the May 5 elections – has accused the prime minister of being “in collusion” with the DUP and supporting its “lockdown tactics”.
UK ministers have repeatedly said they are ready to invoke Article 16 of the protocol and unilaterally suspend some of the agreements if a compromise cannot be found to reduce the impact of bureaucracy, which has been accused of hitting businesses and fueling community tensions. .
Kwarteng told Ridge, “As far as I’m concerned, we absolutely have the right to invoke Article 16 and reopen or re-examine the protocol.”
He said: “The protocol itself says it can be unilaterally revoked if it is shown to be not working.
“And clearly, if political stability is our number one priority, and people are saying they’re not going to share power if that’s not changed, we have to consider very carefully how we can change that.”
Kwarteng continued: “I think the EU is unreasonable, frankly.
“They won’t show much flexibility and that’s why we’re in the position we’re in.”
See More information:
What is the Northern Ireland Protocol and why does it matter?
Downplaying the likelihood of a trade war, he added: “Any tariff situation would have to go to arbitrators. It’s not something they can do anyway, arbitrarily.
But Coveney told Ridge: “The EU wants to continue to negotiate, wants to show flexibility, wants to compromise.”
He said: “Ireland is also frustrated. We are now dealing with the consequences of a decision by the British people in our own country that has cost us hundreds of millions of euros, which is jeopardizing the peace process and its institutions on the island of Ireland.
“When we focus on frustrations, we need to think beyond Westminster.”
He added: “There is no way for the EU to compromise if the UK is threatening unilateral action to pass domestic legislation to nullify international obligations under an international treaty which, don’t forget, the UK was the main creator along with the HUH. “
Coveney continued: “And we can get to a landing zone if we work in partnership.
“But, you know, saber-rattling and Westminster arrogance raising the tension is not the way to do that.
“At a time when the world needs the Western world to come together, acting together to solve problems together. This is a problem we need to solve together. The last thing Ireland wants, the last thing the EU needs, is tension with a country the size and influence of the United Kingdom.
“So we’re going to work together over the summer to solve these problems, to get the institutions back up and running in Northern Ireland.”
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Criticizing the UK government’s position, Sinn Fein chairman Mary Lou McDonald said: “It’s very dangerous, it’s reckless, it’s a game of daring, very cynically carried out by a Conservative government in London that doesn’t care about island of Ireland, north or south.”
Former Tory Health Secretary and Party leadership challenger Jeremy Hunt, referring to the EU, told the BBC: that you may have to change it in a situation where there was a risk to peace and stability, and we don’t have a functioning government in Northern Ireland.”