Bad faith in decision to refuse EU office request

Posted By: April 03, 2020


Allison Morris. Irish News. Belfast. Friday, April 3, 2020

PRO-Remain parties have told Boris Johnson that the British government’s refusal to allow the EU to retain an office in Northern Ireland will be seen as “an act of bad faith”.

The leaders of Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and the Green Party outlined their views in a letter to the British prime minister saying they “felt strongly” that an office in Belfast was necessary to ensure the implementation of the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland which was negotiated with the EU.

The letter follows the British government’s refusal for a request from the EU to open a new office, following the closure of the European Commission’s representation in Belfast at the end of January when offices in Cardiff and Edinburgh were also closed.

The EU has argued that maintaining an office in Belfast is important to ensure the Irish protocol is being properly implemented.

Under the protocol, checks and controls must be carried out on goods crossing from Britain to Northern Ireland to ascertain whether they are at risk of entering the EU’s single market.

Goods deemed at risk will be subject to tariffs, while those deemed not at risk will avail of exemptions or rebates.

The EU wants a physical presence in the north so it can oversee the protocol regime.

However, the UK regards the request as contrary to the letter of the Withdrawal Agreement and an infringement of sovereignty.

It is understood the EU wrote to the UK several months ago to request permission to open an office in Belfast.

However, the request was refused by the British Foreign Office.

The EU has since sent a follow-up letter asking the UK to reconsider the request.

In the letter to Mr Johnson signed by Michelle O’Neill, Colum Eastwood, Naomi Long and Clare Bailey, the party leaders say:

“You are aware that under the terms negotiated by your government, EU representatives have a right under law to be present during any activities relating to the protocol implementation.

“It is also for the EU to determine the extent to which it wishes to exercise these rights, including the opening of an office in Belfast staffed by EU representatives who can carry out their functions without interruption by the Westminster government.

“It is necessary for EU experts to be based in Belfast in order to liaise with your government and NI Executive departments on the implementation of the protocol and our obligations within it.

“To oppose the opening of such an office by the EU in Belfast represents an act of bad faith by your government and a breach of trust at this critical stage of the process.”

The party leaders urge Mr Johnson “to reverse the approach taken by your government without delay” and comply with the request made by the European Commission.