The European Union wishes to have a positive and stable relationship with the United Kingdom. The EU and the UK are partners facing the same global challenges, where upholding the rule of law is imperative.
This relationship must, therefore, be based on the full respect of the legally binding commitments that we have made to one another – commitments based on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which the two parties negotiated, agreed and ratified.
The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, an integral part of the Withdrawal Agreement, protects the 1998 Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions.
It respects the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the UK. It avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland and protects the integrity of the EU Single Market.
After countless hours of intensive, line-by-line negotiations, it was the one and only solution we could jointly find to protect the hard-earned gains of the peace process in Northern Ireland, while addressing the challenges created by Brexit, and the type of Brexit chosen by the UK government.
Renegotiating the Protocol is unrealistic. No workable alternative solution has been found to this delicate, long-negotiated balance. Any renegotiation would simply bring further legal uncertainty for people and businesses in Northern Ireland. For these reasons, the European Union will not renegotiate the Protocol.
From the very beginning, however, the EU has shown understanding for the practical difficulties in implementing the Protocol. Based on our extensive engagement with a wide range of stakeholders in Northern Ireland, the European Commission has put forward far-reaching, bespoke arrangements, especially to facilitate the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
With political will and commitment, the full potential of the flexibilities put forward should be explored – and the European Commission remains keen to do that with the UK government as soon as possible. Only joint solutions would create the legal certainty that people and businesses in Northern Ireland deserve.
It is with significant concern that we take note of today's decision by the UK government to table legislation disapplying core elements of the Protocol. Unilateral action is damaging to mutual trust. The Commission will now assess the UK draft legislation.
In particular, the Protocol provides business operators in Northern Ireland with access to the EU Single Market for goods. The UK government's approach puts this access – and related opportunities – at risk.
Our aim will always be to secure the implementation of the Protocol. Our reaction to unilateral action by the UK will reflect that aim and will be proportionate.
As a first step, the Commission will consider continuing the infringement procedure launched against the UK government in March 2021. We had put this legal action on hold in September 2021 in a spirit of constructive cooperation to create the space to look for joint solutions. The UK's unilateral action goes directly against this spirit.
The Commission will also consider launching new infringement procedures that protect the EU Single Market from the risks that the violation of the Protocol creates for EU businesses and for the health and safety of EU citizens.
In parallel, and in line with the EU's strong and long-standing commitment to businesses and people in Northern Ireland, we will soon present in greater details our model for the flexible implementation of the Protocol, based on durable solutions within the Protocol.
This will demonstrate that solutions to the issues raised by business and people in Northern Ireland exist.
The European Commission recalls that the conclusion of the Withdrawal Agreement was a pre-condition for the negotiation of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Today's decision by the UK government undermines the trust that is necessary for bilateral EU-UK cooperation within the framework of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
We call on the UK government to engage with us on joint solutions. The Commission stands ready to play its part – as it has from the outset.
I will now speak to the European Parliament and to our Member States.
- Publication date
- 13 June 2022
- Representation in Ireland