Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney 

By Irish Echo Staff

In an extraordinary criticism of the British government, though in a specific context, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has described the British government as a negotiating partner for the European Union that simply cannot be trusted.

Coveney’s words came after the move by the British government to unilaterally change how the Northern Ireland Protocol is implemented.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, and s reported by RTE News, Coveney said the difficulty was that the British government had changed its approach.

He said progress was being made on the protocol and the timing of the UK move could not be worse.

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“That is why the EU is now looking at legal options and legal action which means a much more formalized and rigid negotiation process as opposed to a process of partnership where you try to solve the problems together,” Coveney said.

He said he did not favor legal action but favored engagement based on trust between both sides.

“If the UK cannot simply be trusted because they take unilateral action in an unexpected way without negotiation, well then the British government leaves the EU with no option and that is not where we want to be,” he said.

The UK move was really unwelcome and it was the “British government essentially breaking the protocol” and its own commitments again, Coveney added.

The EU is now having to consider how to respond to that, he said.

The British decision to act unilaterally was “clearly in breach of the protocol” and the commitments that were made a few weeks ago.

RTE additionally reported that in a strongly worded statement Wednesday night, the European Commission said the UK was in breach of the good faith provision of the Withdrawal Agreement, and was set to breach international law for a second time.

“Last September, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told the House of Commons that the UK would breach international law by taking unilateral action on the protocol through the Internal Market Bill,” the report stated.

Yesterday he said the UK would unilaterally extend the three month grace period which exempts British suppliers from providing certain paperwork when shipping food to Northern Ireland supermarkets.

The UK, according to the RTE report, suggests that this is merely a technical and operational necessity because the grace period is running out at the end of this month, and because a plan for supermarkets to put in place a hi-tech traceability system will not be ready on time.

“However, senior EU figures see this as a political exercise designed, once again, to bounce the EU into yielding to UK demands on how the protocol should be implemented.

“Senior sources say the Commission has made genuine efforts to find workable solutions to the problems surrounding the protocol, but these have been swept aside by a British solo run. It is understood the EU will now examine its options.

“Either way, the mood in Brussels is one of anger, and it may well dampen the appetite of member states to show more flexibility when it comes to the operation of the protocol.”

The growing standoff around the protocol and recent efforts by unionist leaders to undermine the protocol-based border in the Irish Sea, as opposed to a hard border on the island itself, is a primary reason for Irish American pressure – led by the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Irish Echo by way of a petition – for the rapid appointment of a U.S. Special Envoy to the North.

Minister Coveney’s broadside against London was second only to the health and hospitalization of the Duke of Edinburgh in BBC news reports early today.

Later today the Irish Times reported that President Biden was “unequivocal” about his support for the Belfast Agreement.

Asked by the Irish Times at a press briefing White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “President Biden has been unequivocal about his support for the Good Friday Agreement.

“It has been the bedrock of peace, stability and prosperity for all the people of Northern Ireland.”

According to the Times report, Psaki continued: “We also welcome cooperation between our British and Irish partners on the Northern Irish protocol and the recent strong statements on these governments’ full commitment to the Good Friday Agreement.”