EU ambassador to the UK extends a Brexit olive branch
11th March 2021

EU ambassador to the UK extends a Brexit olive branch as he says it is time to ‘give up on trying to score points on disputes of the past’ amid rumbling row over Northern Ireland Protocol

  • João Vale de Almeida said ‘we need to make an effort to change the mindset’
  • EU ambassador to UK said both sides need to ‘give up on trying to score points’
  • His comments came amid a rumbling row over the Northern Ireland protocol 

The head of the EU delegation to the UK, Joao Vale de Almeida

The EU’s ambassador to the UK today extended a Brexit olive branch to Britain as he said both sides need to ‘give up on trying to score points on disputes of the past’. 

João Vale de Almeida, who took up the role at the start of February, said ‘we need to make an effort to change the mindset’ so Brussels and the UK can ‘make the most out of’ the new arrangements. 

His comments came amid a rumbling row over the Northern Ireland Protocol which has seen the EU launch legal proceedings against the UK Government because of a dispute over border checks.

The protocol was agreed by the EU and UK as part of the Brexit divorce deal and it is designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

It achieves that by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods, with regulatory checks and inspections now required on agri-food produce moving into the region from the rest of the UK.

The new arrangements have caused some disruption to trade since the start of the year as firms have struggled with new processes and administration.

Unionists are opposed to the protocol, claiming it undermines Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.

The EU is launching legal action against the UK Government as part of a rumbling row over border checks in Northern Ireland. Boris Johnson is pictured in the House of Commons on March 10

The UK Government unilaterally decided to extend a post-Brexit grace period on some goods checks in Northern Ireland. The port of Larne is pictured on February 2 

The Northern Ireland Protocol is enshrined in the Brexit divorce deal. 

It is the solution agreed by the EU and the UK to avoid a return to an Irish land border. 

To avoid disrupting cross-border trade and a return of checkpoints along the politically sensitive frontier, they essentially agreed to move new regulatory and customs processes to the Irish Sea.

That means the checks are now focused on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with goods continuing to move freely within the island of Ireland.

Trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is largely unaffected by the protocol.

The red tape applies on movement in the other direction because while Northern Ireland has to stay closely aligned to EU trade rules, the rest of the UK does not. 

Since December 31, a range of regulatory animal and plant safety checks have been in operation, including physical inspections for a proportion of arriving freight at new port facilities.

Customs declarations are also required for incoming commercial goods.

Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market for goods. The region also applies EU customs rules at its ports, even though it is still part of the UK customs territory.

The protocol also sees Northern Ireland follow certain EU rules on state aid and VAT on goods. 

Unionists and loyalists are opposed to the protocol because they believe it creates a barrier between the region and the rest of the UK, undermining the Union, while checks have also resulted in disruption at the border. 

Amid growing tensions in Northern Ireland, the UK Government last week moved to unilaterally delay full implementation of the protocol, by extending some grace periods that currently limit the level of checks and declarations required.

In response, the EU is taking legal action, accusing the UK of breaching the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Mr Vale de Almeida told journalists during a briefing this morning that he wants the two sides to work together ‘in a constructive way, in a positive way, in a fruitful way’. 

He said the world is ‘facing serious problems’ and the EU and the UK have both strategic interests and common values.  

He said: ‘For all this to happen in a constructive way, in a positive way, in a fruitful way, I think we need to make an effort to change the mindset and give up on trying to score points on disputes of the past and focus ourselves on doing what we can do on making the most out of the agreements that we made, the Withdrawal Agreement on one side, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement on the other.

‘With coherence, with consistency, with common willingness to work together. 

‘We will have differences and I think the last few weeks have shown some of those differences, we have to approach not in a confrontational way, not in a conflictual way but in a way that aims at the output, aims at what we can bring to our citizens and to our businesses.

‘They should be the focus of our actions. For all that we need to have high levels of trust, mutual trust.

‘Trust is maybe the most important commodity in international relations. When there is no trust, when levels of trust go down, you are less capable of finding solutions.’

It came after Mr Vale de Almeida told ITV’s Peston programme last night that he never thought Boris Johnson would become prime minister when they knew each other in Brussels 30 years ago when the latter was working as a journalist. 

He said: ‘No, to be very frank, no. But maybe he never thought I would be ambassador to the UK post-Brexit.’

Asked if he had seen qualities in Mr Johnson that would make him suited to being prime minister, he said: ‘Well, that is up to the British people to decide, not for me. 

‘But we had a good understanding, a good relationship, and even friendship and I remember we were quite younger at that time, I can confirm that.’ 

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