UUP Urge EU To 'Focus On Protocol Negotiations'

UUP Leader Doug Beattie has called on the European Union to "focus on getting back into Protocol negotiations".

Mr Beattie held a virtual meeting with EC Vice President Maros Sefcovic.

Following the meeting, Mr Beattie said: "I challenged Maros Sefcovic on his latest comments and told him that his intervention was very unhelpful.

"There can be a negotiated solution, but Maros Sefcovic's comments make it more difficult. Saying that British goods coming into Northern Ireland will always be subject to checks, and that the EU is now responsible for public health in Northern Ireland is a step too far and one which the Ulster Unionist Party cannot accept. The EU has not been handed sovereignty over Northern Ireland and comments like this will only further strengthen the belief that the Protocol Bill will have to be enacted in order to secure Northern Ireland's place in the UK internal market. Indeed, it will be absolutely necessary to protect the Belfast Agreement in the absence of a negotiated solution.
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"Negotiations at this level are high stakes for many businesses and society here in Northern Ireland, but dismissive comments that the EU had a problem with ‘all of' the United Kingdom's proposals is not a good starting point. I welcome the intervention from the Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, that ‘the protocol has unbalanced the delicate settlement that is the Good Friday Agreement, the Belfast Agreement' and would encourage the EU to pay heed to them. These aren't political comments, but a dose of reality that everyone involved in negotiations must listen to.

"The Ulster Unionist Party will always try to play a positive role and we will continue to engage at every level, but the negotiation pathway is very much narrowed when one or both sides in that negotiation ignore solutions off-hand.

"I respectfully remind Maros Sefcovic and his EU colleagues that if it wasn't for the role of unionism through the Ulster Unionist Party, there would never have been a Belfast Agreement. The Agreement was based on consensus and for anyone to now play the majoritarianism card goes against every sinew of the Agreement itself. In the past we have been strongly critical of the United Kingdom Government's role in how it handled Brexit and signing up to the Protocol in the first place, and we cannot ignore the EU's responsibility in exacerbating an already toxic political environment.

"If the EU is serious about protecting the Belfast Agreement then it must focus on getting back into direct negotiations with the UK Government. The UK Command Paper from July 2021, which contained some of the Ulster Unionist Party's proposals and the solutions proposed in the UK Government's Protocol Bill, must form part of negotiations. They should not be dismissed."

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