In a warning shot, the Irish deputy prime minister said Britain faces a test of good faith in the coming weeks after reports the Government is preparing to evade implementing the Northern Ireland protocol. Simon Coveney told reporters in Brussels: “If there isn’t progress on the infrastructure needed to implement the Irish protocol as part of the withdrawal agreement in the next few months, then I think that is going to be a very worrying signal for whether or not it’s going to be possible to conclude something sensible before the end of the year.” “If that doesn’t happen, then I think it will, it will damage significantly the prospects of being able to get even a bare bones trade agreement along with a number of other things that need to be done in place by the end of the year,” he added.
Under Mr Johnson’s EU Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Ireland leaves the bloc’s customs union but must continue to apply its procedures for goods arriving in the province.
But the Prime Minister’s team are drawing up plans to “get around” the protocol in the Brexit deal so they can play hardball with Brussels over trade, according to a Sunday newspaper report.
David Frost’s Taskforce Europe is working on secret plans to ensure there do not need to be checks on goods passing from British to Northern Ireland.
“There is deadly serious internal work going on about not obeying the Northern Ireland protocol,” a senior source told the Sunday Times.
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“Taskforce Europe are looking into that. That’s why they had Suella Braverman put in there.”
Insiders claim that Ms Braverman was installed as the new Attorney-General during the reshuffle because her predecessor, Geoffrey Cox, was not willing to support an action that will be seen in Brussels as a breach of the divorce deal.
Ahead of a ministerial meeting to rubber-stamp Michel Barnier’s negotiating mandate, Mr Coveney said the media reports raise questions over whether Britain can be a trustworthy partner.
“I think in some ways the implementation of agreements that have already been struck are the test of good faith and trust, and without good faith and trust building a future relationship is not going to be easy,” he added.
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His German counterpart also voiced support for Dublin in the upcoming trade negotiations.
Michael Roth said: “My message is crystal clear to our friends in London: keep your promises based on the protocol.”
Brexit will continue to dominate Ireland for years to come, according to its current deputy premier.
Mr Coveney said the health of his country’s economy largely depends on the future relationship the UK and EU eventually conclude.
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He said: “You know I said many times during the election campaign this whether I liked it or not that Brexit was going to dominate Irish politics for the foreseeable future.
“I think it will because, of course, the future relationship with the UK is something that is going to fundamentally impact on the health of the Irish economy, its growth rates and, of course, how goods come and go in and out of our market, which is based on exports, with the rest of the European Union.”
EU ministers will today sign off on Mr Barnier’s 46-page negotiating mandate to allow formal talks with Britain to get underway next month.
European capitals have insisted on hardening their chief negotiators guidelines after almost a month of internal wrangling.
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The bolstered document sets out the bloc’s demands for the UK to maintain a ban on chlorinated chicken as just one of the prices for a trade deal.
A new clause states that both sides should maintain “health and product sanitary quality in the food and agriculture sector”.
It was also agreed that significant “level playing field” demands were inserted into the document to prevent Britain from becoming too competitive.
EU governments have demanded the right to punish the UK if Mr Johnson fails to follow the bloc’s rulebook in the future.
Sources insist it is not “dynamic alignment” but rather “equality of outcomes”, meaning Britain can forge its own way to reach but must match the same standards as Brussels.
The negotiating document states: “The envisaged agreement should uphold common high standards, and corresponding high standards over time with union standards as a reference point.”
Mr Barnier has previously warned such demands would be “red rag” to Brexiteers, but member states ploughed on regardless.
Croatia’s EU minister Andreja Metelko-Zgombić, whose country holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, said: “Today’s General Affairs Council will adopt the mandate for the future relationship with the UK, and from all sides we are really willing to offer a substantial ambitious balanced and wide ranging partnership.
“I would say that the mandate is very precisely defined. It is ambitious wide ranging and our negotiator will have good framework for future negotiations, of course, after the fact is, when they sit around the table far far they’re willing to go.”