Maros Sefcovic warns that changes to the protocol would lead to 'instability'

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Maros Sefcovic has delivered a speech in Belfast today

By PA

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic has warned that any renegotiation of the Northern Ireland Protocol would cause “instability, uncertainty and unpredictability”.

He told an audience in Belfast that the EU had been “engaging constructively” with the UK Government to limit the impact of the protocol on everyday life in Northern Ireland.

He added: “The EU and the UK must continue these discussions in order to reach an understanding.

“I believe that our focus should be on those issues that matter the most to the people of Northern Ireland, and not on requests, such as removing the role of the European Court of Justice.

“Doing this would effectively mean cutting Northern Ireland off the EU’s single market and related opportunities.

“Instead, let’s see what can be done to further ease the supply of goods.

“And let’s see how to involve the people of Northern Ireland in our discussions on the implementation of the protocol.

“A renegotiation of the protocol – as the UK Government is suggesting – would mean instability, uncertainty and unpredictability in Northern Ireland.

“Bear in mind it has already taken us five years to get to this point.”

During his speech, Mr Sefcovic pledged to do “whatever it takes” to ensure that the supply of medicines to Northern Ireland is not disrupted because of the post-Brexit protocol.

The EC vice-president also said: “The commission put forward a package of measures, including changing our own rules to ensure the long-term supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

“This would allow, for instance, for the continued availability of medicines in Northern Ireland – something I know is of particular importance to all of us.

“For my part, I will do whatever it takes to ensure that Northern Ireland has access to all the medicine it needs.

“But I also need to be honest: while we will continue looking for solutions to minimise the effects of Brexit on your everyday lives, we will never be able to remove them entirely – such are the consequences of Brexit and of the choices of the UK Government.”

He also said that "the protocol is not the problem"

Mr Sefcovic explained: "It is the only solution we have. Failing to apply it will not make problems disappear, but simply take away the tools to solve them.

“I am, of course, acutely aware of how some in Northern Ireland feel about the protocol, in particular in the unionist community.

“That is why my team and I have been actively engaging with political representatives, stakeholders, civil society and people in Northern Ireland from all communities since the beginning.

“And that is also one of the reasons I have come to Northern Ireland this week.

“We are seeking solutions that work for all, including those opposed to the protocol. Because no matter what your outlook is, we are all in this for the long run.

“I know it is possible for us to work together if rhetoric on both sides is dialled down.”

(Maros Sefcovic says the protocol is the only solution available to the Brexit issue of friction-less trade within the EU)

Meanwhile, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said this morning that he threatened to pull his ministers out of the Stormont executive because he feared that negotiations between the EU and UK Government over the Northern Ireland Protocol would be “dragged out” for years.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the BBC’s Nolan Show that he had been working on the strategy for months.

He said: “I have been reasonable, I have given people time to take the action that I feel is necessary to remove this Irish Sea border.

“I have worked with the Government, I have engaged with the EU, I have put forward proposals and suggestions in terms of how we can address these issues.

“There reaches a point where, with the decision taken to extend the grace periods indefinitely, that it appears to me that this will be dragged out for months, if not years, and we simply can’t afford that.

“The harm that is being done to our economy every day is not sustainable.”

He also told the BBC that he believes there is now a “realisation” that action needs to be taken to resolve difficulties posed by the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.

On Thursday, Sir Jeffrey signalled that his party will collapse the Executive within weeks if changes to the protocol are not delivered.

Speaking to the BBC Nolan Show on Friday, he said: “I want to get a solution here to the problems that have arisen from this protocol and the harm that it does on a daily basis to Northern Ireland.

“It is costing our economy somewhere in the region of £850 million a year now as the result of this protocol and we simply can’t afford that kind of harm being done on a daily basis to our economy.

“I am hoping that within weeks we will get solutions that will help us to remove the Irish Sea border and restore our place within the UK internal market.

“I was encouraged by the two meetings I’ve had this week with Lord Frost in London and with Maros Sefcovic in Belfast yesterday. I think there is now a realisation that we can’t go on dragging this out interminably. There does need to be action and I’ve heard that clear language.

“We want to see what that means in practice from people.”

(Sir Jeffrey says his threats to destabilise Stormont have made governments realise urgent action is needed)

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