Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has accused the EU of using shame tactics in its negotiations with the UK over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Rees-Mogg suggested that the trading bloc was trying to make the UK “feel bad” in order to force Westminster to abide by the original deal struck in 2020.
The cabinet minister told GB News: “I think [the EU] wants to make the UK feel bad about having left the European Union and that underpins its whole policy and it doesn't really mind about the consequences of that.
“We just have to get on with life and recognise that we have left. We have to make our own way. We are an independent country, and what the EU wants and thinks is secondary.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol is the provision within the UK’s Brexit deal that prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland. It does, however, stipulate that goods travelling from Great Britain into Northern Ireland must now be subject to checks, since those items could then continue into the Republic of Ireland which is within the EU.
Unionists argue that this has created a trade border in the Irish Sea, undermining Northern Ireland’s place in the UK and its internal market. Westminster is therefore seeking to override parts of the Protocol in order for frictionless trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to resume.
However, the EU believes that doing this would constitute a breach of international law and has retaliated by threatening trade sanctions.
Simon Coveney, the Republic of Ireland’s foreign minister, said that the UK was “deliberately deciding to breach international law” if it took unilateral action to override the Protocol.
Coveney said: “Don't forget this treaty was designed and ratified and agreed by the British government under this prime minister. He stood for election and got a huge mandate from the British people on the back of that deal and now is blaming the deal for the problems in Northern Ireland.”
Yet, following last week’s assembly election in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party [DUP] which finished second in the polling and opposes the Protocol in its current guise, has refused to nominate ministers to the power-sharing government with Irish nationalist party Sinn Féin, as an act of protest against the Protocol.
Although Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party in the election, the nature of governance in Northern Ireland means that a functioning executive in the country cannot be formed, leaving it without a devolved government.
As a result of this development, the UK government has been legally advised that overriding the Protocol would now be considered lawful, since its application is now causing social unrest in the region.
Rees-Mogg, meanwhile, has said that should the EU press ahead with trade sanctions, it would only be harming its own citizens by driving up inflation on goods.
He also pointed out that the treaty itself has outlined provisions for changes, saying: “The treaty itself provides for its revision and that has not yet successfully concluded.”
The UK has been locked in negotiations with the EU over revising the Protocol for some time, but a breakthrough is yet to be reached following a “tetchy” exchange between foreign secretary Liz Truss and the chief EU negotiator, European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic.
The bloc has put forward a compromise of reducing checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain but does not favour scrapping them entirely. This suggestion was dismissed by the UK.
Image taken from Wikimedia Commons