Northern Ireland protocol ‘not the problem’ says EU ambassador
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Joao Vale de Almeida appeared on Radio 4 and was asked whether the European Union was willing to budge in light of violence erupting in Northern Ireland due to border and customs disputes. But Mr De Almeida delivered a stern ultimatum stating it was here to stay as “no alternative” exists to replace it. He added the proposed extension of the NI grace period would unlikely materialise as the UK and EU continue to clash over the customs arrangements.
Radio 4 host Mishal Husain asked Mr De Almeida: “You will have seen what’s happened on the streets of Northern Ireland.
“Violence that has been ascribed to anger over how the protocol is being introduced and the way in which Northern Ireland is being treated differently from the rest of the UK.
“We’ve had the former DUP leader, Arlene Foster, saying there are now more checks from Great Britain into Northern Ireland than there are in Rotterdam.
“And that’s something the EU is in control of.”
The Ambassador responded: “Well, let me be clear, also for your audience, the protocol is not the problem, Brexit created the problem in Northern Ireland.”
Ms Husain then quickly pointed out: “Brexit has happened, it’s only the protocol which can be addressed and it needs to be made to work more smoothly.
Mr De Almeida added: “The protocol is a joint endeavour of the UK and European Union.
“It is British law, European law, international law, there is no alternative for the protocol.
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“Even those that criticise the protocol do not present an alternative which is compatible with the terms of Brexit.
“So the Protocol is the solution – we need to implement it – and we want to implement with pragmatism.
“But you know pragmatism requires trust and trust requires respect and delivery on the commitments made.
“That’s what we try to deal with our British friends, joint decisions are needed not unilateral measures and not a public discourse that raises unrealistic expectations.
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“My colleagues are meeting as we speak to try to find pragmatic solutions within the context and the framework created by Brexit.”
Ms Husain then asked whether an extension of the Northern Ireland grace period could be a solution to the issues.
The grace period was introduced as a way to slowly introduce new custom rules for hauliers entering Northern Ireland.
It suspends some checks on the borders to speed up processes but has still caught out some transporters.
Mr De Almeida bluntly replied: “We should not anticipate.
“We are actively preparing important meetings that will take place in around two weeks.
“I think we should concentrate in our next two weeks to find the right solutions – we need to have the right atmosphere as well.”
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