UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plans to unilaterally scrap parts of Northern Ireland's Brexit deal are ‘politically driven’ and ‘very damaging’ to EU-UK relations, the European Commission vice-president has said.
Maros Sefcovic said the EU was not ‘here for political point scoring’ after the bloc launched fresh legal action against the UK in retaliation over the PM's just laid Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which will effectively rip up key parts of the deal signed by Johnson and the EU in 2019.
Sefcovic told Beth Rigby on Sky News: ‘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 and therefore our doors for the negotiations will always be open.
‘We are here for the results, not political point scoring We are in a fixing business, but I am afraid to say what was tabled on Monday is very much nixing.
‘It is very much ripping up the protocol and I don't think that is good for anyone.’
In the deal, both sides agreed to put checks on goods, plant and animal products crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The UK has insisted that its unilateral approach is the only option left to resolve the issues ‘baked in’ to the protocol if the EU maintains its refusal to fundamentally rewrite the terms of the deal.
The European Commission vice-president said Brexit difficulties were bleeding into other areas of co-operation.
While he praised ‘remarkable’ EU-UK co-operation on Ukraine and other global challenges, he said it was a ‘pity that we have to spend so much time’ discussing Brexit issues ‘when we need to build and consolidate this western unity’.
Sefcovic added: ‘What is indeed very damaging for our relationship is this constant breaching of the international law, and that's something what we've been not used to from the UK.’
The dispute could ultimately lead to a trade war, with tariffs or even the suspension of the entire Brexit deal between the UK and EU.
Sefcovic declined to rule out a trade war, saying: ‘We have to keep all options on the table.’
But he emphasised the EU's preference to find a negotiated resolution to the problems caused by the protocol, lamenting the ‘radio silence from London since February’.
He added: ‘We would very much appreciate more of a political will to work on these issues jointly.’
Asked if the issue can be resolved, he said he would ‘hope for the best, be prepared for the worst’.
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