The Northern Ireland protocol is “the solution” to “the problems created by Brexit,” João Vale de Almeida, the EU’s senior representative to the U.K., told The Guardian on Tuesday.
“No one came with a better idea — even those who attack the protocol today, who would like to see it scrapped, have no alternative to the protocol,” the diplomat said, arguing that political efforts should be spent trying to make the current arrangement work.
Vale de Almeida’s comments come in a moment of heightened tension in Northern Ireland due to recent outbreaks of violence, which have left 41 police officers injured and prompted Stormont’s early return from recess.
The EU is “fully committed in a constructive way to find solutions for those problems,” Vale de Almeida said. But he added that it had to be “within the limits of the protocol that we have agreed not long ago.”
Vale de Almeida stated that the EU was open to making the protocol “more flexible,” but also suggested that the U.K. needed to take responsibility for the difficulties, which in his view ultimately stem from the country’s decision to leave the bloc.
The protocol has been a source of tension between the EU and the U.K. since Brexit officially occurred at the beginning of the year. The U.K.’s unwillingness to conduct checks on goods in the Irish Sea has caused anger and spurred the EU to begin legal proceedings against its neighbor.
Meanwhile, observers have been suggesting possible adjustments to the protocol, with some drawing inspiration from other EU deals with third countries, such as Switzerland.