Cate McCurry and Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said there is “a deep well of support from our partners across the world” for the EU and UK to come to a “joint, pragmatic solution” over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“Unilateral action will not bring us closer to that goal,” Mr Martin said on Monday.
Speaking alongside Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte at a press event in Dublin, Mr Martin said he had told Mr Rutte that industry representatives from Northern Ireland had said the protocol was working for “many sectors”, mentioning manufacturing, meat and dairy industries.
“From my contact in recent days in Belfast on Friday, with European leaders, with the delegation from the US Congress I met this afternoon, I know that the only way we will find a way through the current difficulties on the protocol is through good faith engagement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.”
The EU wants a “harmonious” relationship with the UK, Mr Martin said.
Mr Rutte said he still gets “emotional” about the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and that the protocol not only preserves the agreement but also prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland while safeguarding the integrity of the EU single market.
“I think the EU has shown maximum flexibility,” he said, adding that the Netherlands and the other 26 members of the European Union “fully support” the work of European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic, who has been negotiating with the UK on how to tweak the protocol.
“We will keep on working with him and his team to make sure that we somehow find a way out of this,” Mr Rutte said.
“But if this is not possible, we also have to take our next steps and think about those. I don’t want to guess as to what they could be, because I don’t think that is helpful, but I think Boris Johnson and the UK know very well what the next steps could be. Let’s hope we don’t come to that.”
Earlier on Monday, a delegation of politicians from the US Congress warned the British government that unilaterally removing the protocol “will not work”.
Democratic congressman Dan Kildee urged British foreign secretary Liz Truss to hold face-to-face negotiations with Brussels to resolve outstanding issues.
The bipartisan US delegation met Mr Martin on Monday afternoon in Dublin.
The delegation, led by senior Democrat Richard Neal, is visiting Ireland this week amid tensions caused by the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Mr Kildee met Ms Truss over the weekend.
“It’s important, and we stress this, that the (British government) negotiate and that they not take unilateral action,” Mr Kildee told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland.
“I think that was the very first point that was pressed by our delegation, most particularly Richie Neal.
“The only way we can come to agreement, the only way we protect the incredible progress that’s represented with the Good Friday Agreement, is face-to-face negotiation.
“It is disappointing to see unilateral action being considered. We stressed that that was not the approach that we recommend, but again, difficult to determine their motivation.
“We don’t believe that is the proper path. We think unilateral solutions will not work. Face-to-face negotiation to work out some of these technical questions can be achieved and that’s what we currently recommend.”
He said there was no indication the British government intends to “change course”.
“The purpose of the meeting was to make sure it was very clear to them what our position is and has been – the position of Chairman Neal, (US House of Representatives Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and the American government in general supports that we don’t believe that will lead to a positive outcome,” he added.
“We think it’s best, whenever there is a difference, to sit down across the table and negotiate toward a common purpose.
“It’s interesting that is the history that we celebrate when we think about the incredible benefits of the Good Friday Agreement, a very difficult, long-standing dispute resolved through negotiation.
“That’s a lesson that not only the rest of the world should learn, but we would hope that the parties involved now, the UK Government, would recognise that’s the way to resolve these differences.”
The group repeated a warning that there will not be a US-UK trade agreement if the Good Friday Agreement is damaged by unilateral action.
“That’s been articulated by the speaker and now having had both Democratic and Republican members of Congress – who don’t agree on everything, there are many things we disagree on – but we agree on that point and we’ve made it very clear to each and every person that we’ve met with on this delegation trip,” Mr Kildee added.
Earlier on Monday, Mr Martin said the only way to resolve the protocol challenges is through intensive negotiations between the EU and the British government.
Mr Martin met Northern Ireland political leaders and businesses last week to discuss the effects of the protocol.
“I met with all the political parties on Friday and crucially I also met with industry and with the Brexit business working group,” Mr Martin said on Monday.
“They had some interesting research which shows that 65 per cent of companies were now managing the protocol quite effectively.
“For many sectors like meat production and for the manufacturing sector in the North and for agriculture, like diary, the protocol is actually essential, is how they put it, and has been very advantageous.
“For other sectors, like consumer-facing areas and retail, there are difficulties and there are challenges that have been legitimately raised.
“The only way to resolve those challenges is through intensive discussions and negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom government.”
The US group also met Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald in Dublin.
The USA stands resolute in defence of the Good Friday Agreement and the protocol. It is imperative that the Executive is formed. No delay. The people have spoken. Very good meeting with the Congressional Delegation lead by @RepRichardNeal pic.twitter.com/JamV5rQSAB
— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) May 23, 2022
Afterwards, she said: “I thanked the members of the US Congress for their continued support of the Good Friday Agreement, for peace and for progress in Ireland.
“There would be no agreement without the US. The progress we have made since 1998 has been due to the diligence and commitment of US political leaders who have acted as guarantors of our agreements.
“These agreements face challenges from a British government that plays fast and loose with international law and places narrow Tory party concerns above the needs of the people and economy of the North.
“We all agree the way forward is clear – the DUP need to get back to work and stop blocking the formation of an executive.
“The British government must abide by international law.
“The resolution to the implementation of the protocol will be found in negotiations between the EU and British government free from threats of unilateral action.”
DUP Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said his party would be stressing the difficulties the protocol is causing, during meetings with the US delegation this week.
Mr Lyons told the BBC Good Morning Ulster programme: “Rather than protecting the Good Friday Agreement and successor agreements, the protocol actually damages them.
“It is causing economic difficulty, it is causing societal problems and it is very clearly causing divergence of trade, and of course it is causing political instabilities.
“So we need to get that message across that the protocol is not protecting the Good Friday Agreement and that is why we need this issue dealt with quickly.”