Boris Johnson’s plan to unilaterally overhaul parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol is “politically driven”, the vice president of the European Commission has suggested.
Speaking exclusively to Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby, Maros Sefcovic said the legislation appeared to be more of a reflection of the PM’s domestic difficulties than problems with the agreement itself.
“I cannot resist the impression that the tabling of the bill is politically driven, but it’s not our role to comment on internal politics in the UK,” he said.
“Our doors for negotiations will always be open I’m ready to talk to all political leaders in Northern Ireland and to all stakeholders,” he said in an interview on tonight’s Beth Rigby Interviews.
The bill – introduced in parliament earlier this week – would give ministers the ability to unilaterally disapply significant sections of the UK’s withdrawal agreement with the EU.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was signed as part of the agreement, which set the terms of the UK’s ‘divorce’ from the bloc.
It aims to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland while also protecting the EU single market by allowing Northern Ireland to remain in the UK customs area while also following EU rules on goods that could travel into the bloc via the Republic of Ireland.
This requires checks to be carried out on goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, which critics of the Protocol say has changed Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom by creating a border in the Irish Sea.
The UK government says it has caused unacceptable challenges for businesses and is preventing the resumption of power sharing arrangements set up as a result of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
The unionist DUP has refused to rejoin the executive alongside Sinn Fein until its issues with the Protocol are resolved.
Mr Johnson has said he favours a negotiated solution with the EU, and that the controversial legislation is only an “insurance” in case that is not possible.
But Mr Sefcovic disputed that account, expressing his frustration that the UK was seeking to unilaterally disapply parts of the agreement despite having only recently signed up to it as part of an international treaty.
“We agreed upon it, we ratified and we are still talking about it and of course what is still sensitive for us and indeed very damaging for our relationship is this constant breaching of the international law and that’s something that we are not used to from the UK,” he told Sky News.
Yesterday Mr Sefcovic confirmed that Brussels would resume legal proceedings against the UK, which were suspended in September, for breaching the EU withdrawal treaty agreed in 2020.
Speaking at a news conference, he said: Mr Sefcovic said: “If the UK doesn’t reply within two months we may take them to the court of justice.”
Watch the full interview with Maros Sefcovic on Beth Rigby Interviews… tonight at 9pm on Sky News, and catch up again on Sky Showcase at 8am on Friday.