Brexit: Jeremy Vine says EU is looking to 'waterboard' UK
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Its foreign minister Simon Coveney insisted Downing Street had to be more upfront with the post-Brexit border fix it signed up to in order to cool tensions in the region. He suggested Unionist demands to scrap the Brexit deal’s protocol to avoid a hard border “just isn’t realistic”. His warning came ahead of a proposed three-month ceasefire in the so-called sausage wars, due to be signed by the UK and EU today.
The row over the sale of burgers and sausages in Northern Ireland has plunged cross-Channel relations to a new low and sparked Unionists protests.
But Mr Coveney argued the EU-ordered trade checks on goods travelling between mainland Britain and the region does not “undermine their Britishness”.
He fumed: “I don’t agree with that but can understand how that perspective has developed and many have really forced that messaging, and added a language of the identity of politics to the Protocol that really has fired up many in the loyalist community in particular who feel this is threatening their identity.
“We are all working to ensure that we have a calm summer, but it wouldn’t take a lot to spark, primarily young people, to lash out as they did in April because of the perceptions that many have, that they haven’t been listened to, that their tradition isn’t being respected, that they have in some way been outmanoeuvred through the Brexit process and the implementation of the Protocol.”
Downing Street has threatened to unilaterally scrap elements of the protocol amid frustrations that the arrangements cause too much friction between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Unionists have demanded Boris Johnson rips up the entire post-Brexit border fix because of their concerns.
Speaking at an online event, Mr Coveney said there was a need to be “honest with people” that there is no “credible” alternative to the Protocol.
To keep the Irish border open, the area effectively remains part of the EU’s single market and checks are now made on some products arriving from the rest of the UK.
Unionists are furious it has driven a series of economic and regulatory barriers between the region and the rest of the UK.
“To scrap it and replace just isn’t realistic and it is important that I am honest about that, even though some people don’t want to hear it,” Mr Coveney said.
The Irish minister argued there was a need for the EU to be flexible in its demands over the implementation of the border fix.
But he added: “There is a need for the British government, in particular, to show some honesty around what has been agreed, why it was agreed, and the disruption it has prevented.
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“Brexit is the disruptor here, not the Protocol. The Protocol was designed to limit the disruption of Brexit.”
Potentially risking further tensions, Mr Coveney said he would like to see Irish reunification at “some point in the future”.
“But I also know there is an enormous amount of work to do to rebuild relationships in a way that ensures the unionist community aren’t fearful of that,” he told the event.
“They may not like that idea but I think many in the unionist community feel almost under siege about that perceived threat.”
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The EU and UK are set to announce an extension to the grace period allowing the movement of sausages and other chilled meats across the Irish Sea.
The agreement is expected to be finalised just hours before the Brussels-mandated ban on British-made bangers being sold in Northern Ireland would come into force.
EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic is scheduled to address the media, while the UK is also expected to issue its own statement on the matter.
The blockade on chilled meats is just one of the contentious elements of the Brexit deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol.
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Mr Sefcovic, the EU’s chief negotiator on the issue, has been keen to de-escalate recent tensions.
He even warned the bloc’s member states that they risk plunging Northern Ireland into chaos if they are not more pragmatic with their hardline interpretation of the post-Brexit border fix.
Earlier this week, Mr Sefcovic said he was “confident” a solution could be found before the scheduled ban on sausage shipments came into force.
He told a Northern Ireland Assembly committee on Monday that he was confident an extension would be granted “that will address both sides’ needs and concerns”.
But Slovak diplomats continued to push a controversial plan for Britain to align to the EU’s food health and safety rules in order to remove controls in the Irish Sea.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said yesterday: “We expect to agree an extension to the chilled meats grace period soon on terms that are acceptable to the UK and will announce further details in the usual way.”
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