Monday, 27 Mar 2023

EU showed ‘lack of understanding’ of NI politics as talks stalled

Boris Johnson criticises Sunak’s new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland

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Brexit negotiations around the Northern Ireland Protocol took a long time as the UK Government was faced with the lack of understanding in Brussels of unionist communities in Northern Ireland and the history of the region, according to a former UK Government advisor. Rory O’Donnell, former Director for EU Trade Policy and Northern Ireland at the UK Mission to the European Union, told Brussels, like many others outside the UK, failed to conceive the idea that unionists in Northern Ireland could feel more British than Irish, ignoring political sensitivities in the region.

Mr O’Donnell, now Partner at Business Consulting company Penta Group, said he welcomed Rishi Sunak’s latest deal on to solve the Northern Ireland Protocol impasse.

But asked why negotiations took so long, he said: “I think there was a bit of frustration on the UK side about whether the EU fully understood the sensitivities around the politics of Northern Ireland.”

He added: “To be completely honest, most people do not understand Northern Ireland is an interesting and complicated place.

“And I think, not to exaggerate it, but everywhere there’s a kind of idea that Ireland is nice, that Irish people are nice, and ‘why would anybody in Northern Ireland think they were British rather than Irish?’.

“And that is just a fundamental lack of understanding of one of the communities in Northern Ireland.

“Being British is more important to them than anything else.

“For the other community it’s not, and I think that takes a while to understand.

“And to be fair to the Commission, they spoke to and visited Northern Ireland and over time I think they gained a better understanding.”

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“It took a while to get there,” he added, “but they got there in the end”.

The Windsor Framework was announced on Monday following months of talks. It seeks to remove post-Brexit trade barriers, creating a new system for the flow of goods into Northern Ireland.

The DUP, which is currently boycotting the Stormont powersharing institutions, has said it will study the new framework before giving its verdict.

However, a number of party members have already expressed concerns. Lord Dodds has said he does not believe the new arrangements would remove the trade border in the Irish Sea.

A former Northern Ireland attorney general has said the deal does not strengthen the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as part of the UK.

John Larkin KC gave the analysis in a new report published by a unionist think tank.

The new report by the Centre for the Union Constitutional Studies Group has been co-authored by loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson.

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The report states: “We cannot recommend, in the absence of additional components being added to the framework, alongside some present elements being amended, unionist support for the Windsor Framework.”

In his foreword, Mr Paisley said: “It is my view that unionism will have to dig deep in the coming days to overcome the problems caused by the protocol.

“My instinctive reaction to the Windsor Framework remains that the problem is not yet solved.”

He added: “I am clear from what I have read and heard since 27th February that as Ursula von der Leyen stated, the European Court of Justice is the ‘sole and ultimate arbiter of EU law’ and it will have the final say on all matters of EU law.

“Given that the Windsor Framework will not be legislated for, it is clear that Northern Ireland will remain in a very different position from the rest of the UK.”

Mr Larkin was asked to give a legal analysis on the provisions of the new framework.

He concluded: “Are the proposals contained within the Windsor Framework compatible with the Acts of Union 1800, particularly Article VI thereof? No.

“Do the proposals contained within the Windsor Framework remedy the “subjugation” of Article VI of the Acts of Union 1800? No.

“Do the proposals in the Windsor Framework strengthen the constitutional guarantee respecting the constitutional status of Northern Ireland? No.”

Mr Larkin was the barrister who represented a unionist collective in an unsuccessful legal challenge to the protocol which was heard at the UK Supreme Court.

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