The EU has warned the UK to “dial down the rhetoric” and start being “honest” to voters about the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol after the historic Stormont election that put Sinn Féin top of the polls.
As the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) warned it could stall the return of power-sharing until Christmas, the EU vice-president Maroš Šefčovič said it was also keen to find solutions.
“We need the UK government to dial down the rhetoric, be honest about the deal they signed and agree to find solutions within its framework,” he said in a statement. “The EU has already shown a lot of flexibility by proposing impactful, durable solutions and we stand ready to continue discussions.”
The Irish taoiseach, Micheál Martin, claimed the flexibility shown by the EU “has not been reciprocated”, suggesting its recent threats over unilateral action to disapply some of the checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea had “made the EU more cautious”.
He said he would like to think the British government would continue to approach the issue with a determination to get the matter “resolved sensibly”, adding that the Irish government would help to facilitate this. “The politics of this is more problematic than resolving the actual trading issues around the protocol.”
Brussels sources pointed out that talks between Šefčovič and the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, paused in the run-up to the Stormont election, but said they would relaunch with a renewed intensity.
They indicated there was room for a deal but the UK needed to show the will to get something over the line. The talks are likely to continue for some months.
Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg have recently hinted at unilateral action to “fix” the protocol but have pulled back from threats of new domestic laws to disapply some of the protocol.
Diplomatic sources at the EU say that any such unilateral action will be met with retaliatory measures, adding that even in the context of the war in Ukriane they would not be able to “ignore” such a move.
The UK government will take “whatever measures are necessary” to amend the Brexit protocol, the justice secretary, Dominic Raab, has pledged. The Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, has ruled out any imminent prospect of a referendum on a united Ireland.
After a resounding election victory for Sinn Féin, the DUP has said it cannot fill the position of deputy first minister until Brexit checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain are removed.
Raab told Sky News on Sunday: “If anything, the outcome in Northern Ireland from those elections makes it clear it [a protocol change] can’t be put off.”