London’s plan to scrap the post-Brexit trade agreement would seriously damage Northern Ireland’s economy, Micheal Martin said.
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin accused the UK of “economic vandalism” in a BBC interview on Sunday. Martin was responding to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to overhaul the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol, branding it the worst kind of unilateralism.
A bill introduced in the House of Commons last week would dramatically overhaul the protocol, which currently mandates customs checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain. Should the new bill pass, goods bound for Northern Ireland would not be subject to such checks, while goods bound for the Republic of Ireland via Northern Ireland would be checked and taxed at ports in the British exclave before heading south.
“The legislation effectively would be severely damaging to the Northern Ireland economy, particularly in the context of the dual regulatory standards approach,” Martin told the BBC, referring to the choice that Northern Irish businesses would have to make between complying with EU or UK standards.
“In effect, it represents a form of economic vandalism on Northern Ireland because if you look, any objective data is now showing that the Northern Ireland economy is doing very well,” he continued. The Irish government, he said, believes that the new legislation “is very, very worrying in terms of the actual damage it could do to key sectors of Northern Ireland economy.”
The British government argues that a dual regulatory approach would rid UK-Northern Ireland trade of burdensome EU regulations, while avoiding the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, something that would be an unwelcome reminder of the North’s troubled political history.
“There are certain areas where we can improve the protocol and we should continue to do that,” Martin said, calling for “substantive negotiations between the British government and the European Union.”
Northern Ireland’s unionists – those who support remaining a part of the United Kingdom and view the protocol as sidelining them – have threatened not to share power with the nationalist Sinn Fein party if the protocol remains in force, and have criticized Martin for dismissing their concerns.
“From day one Dublin has done what’s in Dublin’s interests and never once prioritized consensus in Northern Ireland,” Democratic Unionist Party MP Sammy Wilson told the BBC. “Not one unionist MP or MLA supports the protocol but instead of Dublin trying to understand or recognise our objections, they repeatedly lecture us, talk down to us and demand we change our mind.”
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, whose party represents Irish nationalist interests, has said that Britain’s proposal constitutes “a breach of international law” and would undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.