There is no legal or political justification for unilateral action on the Northern Ireland Protocol, the Irish and German governments have warned.

The message to the British government was delivered in a joint article by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

Writing in The Observer newspaper, they said the protocol explicitly recognised Northern Ireland's constitutional position within the UK, was bringing real economic benefit to the region and was protecting the EU's single market.

"There is no legal or political justification for unilaterally breaking an international agreement entered into only two years ago," they said.

"The tabling of legislation will not fix the challenges around the protocol.

"Instead it will create a new set of uncertainties and make it more challenging to find durable solutions."

The ministers said people in Northern Ireland backed the protocol, citing the recent elections where 52 of the 90 MLAs returned favour the arrangements.

They argued that the EU had listened to concerns about some aspects of the protocol's operation, had changed its laws to fix issues around the supply of medicines and had offered a package of other possible flexibilities.

"We urge the British government to step back from their unilateral approach and show the same pragmatism and readiness to compromise the EU has shown.

"By working together in partnership and with mutual respect, common ground can be found and challenges no matter how difficult overcome," the ministers said.

They said the EU had been an important partner in the peace process and had invested €1.5bn in projects to underpin it.

When the UK left the EU it was clear there would need to be an arrangement to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the protocol had been the answer, which was arrived at after years of intense negotiation.

Concluding, they said it had given continued access for Northern Ireland businesses to the EU's 450m consumers and had also paved the way for the wider EU/UK trade agreement.

That had allowed Northern Ireland business to grow and the region's economy to bounce back from the pandemic faster than elsewhere in the UK.

The two foreign ministers said with Russia's war on Ukraine, now was the time for the UK and the EU to show they were standing together.

Minister Coveney told RTÉ that progress has been "stalled for a number of months" and that the British government has not engaged in serious negotiations since 11 February.

Speaking on RTÉ's This Week programme, he said the British government's argument that it has exhausted negotiations and must act unilaterally "doesn't hold any water".

He said today's article shows that it is not only Ireland saying this, but Germany too.

"There is a way forward based on negotiation. The EU has shown its willingness to compromise," he said.

"We are certainly recognising that there are problems with the protocol and that the Unionist community in Northern Ireland has legitimate grievances that can be, in my view, responded to through flexibility and pragmatism on how the protocol is implemented."

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Mr Coveney said the British government's tactics have not been about partnership, but about "deliberately creating tension".

The German ambassador to the UK, Miguel Berger, told Sky News that for the most part the protocol was working.

He said any issues, especially for smaller retailers, could be addressed through negotiation.

Mr Berger repeated the EU position that UK unilateral action would be a clear breach of international law.
And he said with the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement approaching next year, it was incumbent on all sides to find a solution.

"The majority of businesses told us they are working very well with the Northern Ireland Protocol, what they need is certainty. Certainty in order to attract investment and this certainty is definitely damaged by the Northern Ireland Protocol bill," he said.

Asked whether a trade war would be the outcome if the UK government pressed ahead with the bill to set aside large portions of the protocol, Mr Berger said: "I can only tell you that at that stage all options would be on the table.

"I would not exclude any one of those but our call is lets go back into negotiations, it's doable, it's solvable and it's in the best interests of Northern Ireland."


Your questions answered: The Northern Ireland Protocol