EU ambassador warns UK of ‘retaliation’ in Brexit protocol row

Joao Vale de Almeida says Britain and the bloc have to ‘create a better atmosphere’ to resolve the Northern Ireland dilemma

FILE - In this Monday, June 2, 2014 file photo, European Union Ambassador to the US Joao Vale de Almeida answers questions during a newsmaker interview at the Associated Press in Washington. Britain has sparked a post-Brexit spat with the European Union on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021 by declining to grant the bloc’s first-ever ambassador to the country full diplomatic status. Joao Vale de Almeida is the 27-nation EU’s envoy to the U.K., which left the bloc last year. But the British government says the EU is an international organization, rather than a country, and has not given Vale de Almeida the full rights accorded to ambassadors, including immunity from taxation and prosecution.  (AP Photo/J. David Ake, file)
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The EU’s ambassador to the UK has said there is no scope for reopening negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol and that any independent UK action would lead to retaliation from Brussels.

Joao Vale de Almeida warned the UK government that if parts of the current deal are torn up, there would be response.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has outlined plans for legislation to amend the protocol so that concerns about the deal can be addressed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that “we don’t want to nix it, we want to fix it”.

But Mr de Almeida said: “It’s not very reassuring if you go into a negotiation where you are presented with two options — either renegotiation or unilateral action to override the treaty.

“This is not the best way to fix; this is rather a way, maybe, to nix.

“So if we want to fix it, which is what we want and I understand this is what the government wants as well, we need to create a better atmosphere.”

He said there was “untapped potential” in the proposals set out by European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic in talks with the UK government.

“There is still potential in the proposals that we’ve made," Mr de Almeida said. "We would like to focus on that instead of going unilateral.

“Unilateral calls for unilateral. Action calls for reaction.

“And is that what we want, an escalation around Northern Ireland at this present point in time? I don’t think so.”

He said in Westminster that there was little prospect of the EU’s member states giving Mr Sefcovic a mandate to rewrite the protocol in his talks with Ms Truss.

"We were told that we should get a new mandate but I can tell you very clearly what the member states are telling us is very simple: 'You don’t need a mandate and even if you ask for one, you will not get it'."

Mr de Almeida said there was a lack of trust between the two sides and little sign of a “happy ending” in the protocol dilemma.

“I’m worried by the low levels of trust that exist today between the EU and the UK, between our leaders, between all of us that are involved in this relationship,” he said.

Mr de Almeida compared the protocol row to a long-running drama.

“I was hoping to see in this season of this saga … more creativity and hopefully a happy ending," he said.

"I’m not seeing it for the moment and this is an area where I think things have not changed enough.”

Co-operation on issues such as the war in Ukraine and climate change showed how the two sides could work together.

But Mr de Almeida said: “If I look at the wider picture of our relationship, our problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol have an excessively negative impact on the quality of our overall relationship, and we need to overcome this situation.”

Downing Street said the EU’s proposals for fixing the protocol did not provide a solution.

“You will know that we have invited Vice President Sefcovic to London to hold further talks," the government said.

“The foreign secretary has been clear that the measures that are currently on the table won’t address the problems that we know exist on the ground in Northern Ireland, which is why we need to find new solutions.

“We remain committed to trying to reach a negotiated settlement.”

Updated: May 19, 2022, 10:35 PM