By Anthony Neeson
With political storm clouds gathering over the cold, choppy waters of the Irish Sea, an extraordinary outburst has seen a leading unionist MP branding President Joe Biden “a bigoted ignoramus.”
The insult came in a week of growing tension over the new post-Brexit trading arrangements between Britain and Northern Ireland.
Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that Britain can’t be trusted as a negotiating partner after the British government announced that it would be making unilateral changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol. Meanwhile, loyalist paramilitaries have withdrawn support for the Good Friday Agreement over their opposition to the Irish Sea trade border.
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During his interview with the Russia Today news network from his home in Larne on the County Antrim coast, not far from one of the new customs posts at Larne Harbour, East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson bemoaned that even though he and his party championed had Brexit “we’ve now become a semi part of the European Union and a semi part of the United Kingdom rather than full blown members of the United Kingdom.”
Later in the same interview he turned his attention to the President of the United States, saying: “I hear the ignoramus, the bigoted ignoramus who has now taken over in the White House, talks about the need to defend the Good Friday Agreement – I doubt if the man has ever read it.”
In Dublin, the alarm bells have been ringing after the British government announced plans to extend the grace period for businesses importing goods into Northern Ireland.
The grace period is due to run out at the end of the month and was put in place to allow firms time to adapt to the new trading arrangements for goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain. At the start of the year supermarkets were reporting some empty shelves as a result of the Brexit agreement between the EU and UK.
The EU is now considering legal action after the announcement by the British government to unilaterally change part of the Brexit deal.
Simon Coveney said: “Unfortunately, what this means is that the EU, I think, certainly sees – and this is not the first time this has happened – that they are negotiating with a partner that they simply can’t trust.
“And that is why the EU is looking at legal options which means a much more formalized and rigid negotiation process as opposed to a process of partnership where you try to solve problems together, so this is really unwelcome.
“It’s essentially the British government breaking the protocol, breaking their own commitments again and the EU having to then consider how to respond to that while at the same time ensuring that in practical terms the protocol can be implemented.”
The British government, meantime, has lifted a ban on importing plants potted in oil from Britain into Northern Ireland, which was causing problems in garden centers.
DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster said the British government was listening to unionist concerns, but “short-term fixes are not enough.”
“The Prime Minister promised the unfettered flow of goods from GB to NI and the Government must now deliver on that commitment,” she said.
Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald criticized what she called the British government ‘solo run’ in recent days.
“Over the last week, I have been meeting with dozens of members of the diplomatic corps in Dublin and London in relation to the challenges Ireland now faces as a result of Brexit and the fact we are now picking up the pieces for a Tory Brexit that is bad for Ireland,” she said.
“It is clear that EU member states are watching events closely, understand why the Irish Protocol is necessary and are very resolute in supporting its implementation.”