The European Commission’s vice-president has rejected claims that the EU is using Northern Ireland to punish the UK for Brexit after a senior politician accused the bloc’s actions of having a “devastating impact” on the region.
DUP leader Edwin Poots told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the region was being used as a “plaything” by Europe in a political battle between the EU and the UK.
Mr Poots said the UK government had grounds to trigger Article 16 of the protocol, which would allow either side to suspend parts of the agreement, due to “economic and societal damage”.
“We have violence on our streets in Northern Ireland, which hasn’t been the case for years, and that’s on the back of this Protocol,” he said.
However, Maros Sefcovic firmly rejected Mr Poots’ claims, arguing that the bloc searched for four years for the “best solution to the very sensitive situation in Northern Ireland”.
Mr Sefcovic told the Andrew Marr Show that it was “very clear” for both the EU and the UK that the Northern Ireland Protocol represented the best option.
He added that a Switzerland-style veterinary agreement on a temporary basis, where the UK follows EU agrifood rules, could be used to “get rid of 80 per cent of checks”.
“I think it would be the right thing to do, it would calm down the situation,” Mr Sefcovic said.
The European Commission vice-president also reiterated his opposition to a hard border on the island of Ireland and said he wanted to meet the Northern Ireland Executive parties before the next Joint Committee meeting, which is expected to take place in mid-June.
“I would like to hear from Mr Poots himself but also from other leaders of the political parties who form the Northern Ireland Executive and discuss with them what we can do better,” Mr Sefcovic told the BBC.
The recently-elected DUP leader said on Sunday that he wanted to see a “permanent solution” for Northern Ireland, with barriers removed between the region and the rest of the UK.
Additional reporting by PA