Controversial government legislation that would empower UK ministers to unilaterally cancel parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol is undermining trust and respect for the EU, Maros Sefcovic has said.
The vice-president of the European Commission also warned in a speech to the Anglo-Irish Association conference in Oxford that it was “legally and politically inconceivable” for the UK government to attempt to change the conditions under which goods can enter the EU single market.
The government is advancing its bill to give ministers the power to remove controls on Irish Sea trade created by the post-Brexit protocol which was jointly agreed by the UK and EU in as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to maintain free movement of the Irish land border. .
However, Mr Sefcovic said the EU had already put forward “wide-ranging” proposals to address concerns raised by stakeholders in Northern Ireland about the operation of the protocol.
He said the EU proposals would create an express lane for goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland and cut sanitary and phytosanitary checks and controls by more than 80%.
He said: “These proposals were however never seriously taken up by my counterparts. In short, they were fired without consideration.
“The UK hasn’t even engaged in meaningful talks with us since February.
“Instead, we are now faced with the continued determination of the UK government to push forward the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which is expected to remove essential elements of the protocol.
This blatant breach of international law is extremely damaging to mutual trust and respect between the EU and the UK
“This unilateral action is naturally very worrying for the EU.
“It is not for the UK government alone to change our bilateral agreement and change the conditions under which goods can enter the EU single market and reach our consumers.
“It is simply legally and politically inconceivable.
“This blatant breach of international law is extremely damaging to mutual trust and respect between the EU and the UK.”
Mr Sefcovic said that by pursuing the bill in the face of criticism, the UK government was creating “deep uncertainty” for businesses and people in Northern Ireland.
He added: “Only common solutions can create the legal certainty and predictability that people and businesses in Northern Ireland need and deserve.
“I am convinced that with political will and commitment, we can still explore the full potential of our ambitious proposals and find a way forward.
“This call for the UK government to engage with us has been clear for over a year.
“And that still holds – also vis-à-vis the new Prime Minister and the British government.
“Further unilateral actions could give the impression to many in the EU that British leaders are not so interested in cooperating with the EU.
“For my part, I am ready to work intensively and constructively with any new British interlocutor to find a common solution within the framework of the protocol.
“The EU will never leave the table.”
. Maros Sefcovic draft law on protocol door breach trust respect with EU