Blog: Northern Ireland protocol critics have no alternative, says EU ambassador – The Guardian

Political leaders who want the Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland dumped have failed to come up with any better ideas, the EU ambassador to the UK has said, as police confirmed 41 officers were injured during violence on the streets over the weekend.

João Vale de Almeida called on unionist leaders to focus on making the protocol work rather than fighting against it, pledging the EU’s commitment to flexibility on its implementation if the British government demonstrated good faith.

“The protocol is the solution for the problems created by Brexit in Northern Ireland and that’s where I believe we should focus,” he said.

Vale de Almedia was speaking after four nights of disturbances in the Waterside area of Derry and Carrickfergus near Belfast.

Nine police officers were injured in the latest disturbances on Monday night.

Darrin Jones, the police commander in Derry and Strabane district, called the behaviour reckless and criminal. “I would also appeal directly to parents and guardians to know where their children are and what they are doing to ensure they do not get caught up in criminality and that they are kept safe and away from harm,” he said.

Northern Ireland’s assembly is to be recalled from its Easter break on Thursday to debate the violence after an Alliance party petition drew the necessary 30 signatures.

Politicians across the spectrum have condemned the violence but traded blame over who is responsible, with some linking it to tensions over Brexit and others pointing to Sinn Féin’s alleged breach of pandemic rules at a republican funeral last summer along with unionist party denunciations of the police, which they said had created a “toxic” environment.

In an interview with the Guardian’s Politics Weekly podcast, the EU ambassador said he understood the “sensitivities” and the “delicate and volatile situation in Northern Ireland”, which he visited last year.

He said the EU was “fully committed in a constructive way to find solutions for those problems” but it had to be “within the limits of the protocol that we have agreed not long ago”.

Vale de Almeida said the EU “can look at ways and means to facilitate it [the protocol] and make it even more flexible” and was examining an overdue plan for the implementation of the agreement delivered by London to Brussels last Thursday.

The solutions, he said, would come from “implementing the protocol, implementing it fully; implementing it well”.

But he said Britain needed to own the Brexit it got, including the protocol, as it was a result of the government’s decision to go for a hard Brexit putting sovereignty ahead of collaboration on trade.

“[Let’s] not forget the origin of the issues. We are talking about the impact of Brexit, which was decided by the British people,” he said.

“We are talking about the impact of the departure from the single market, which was decided on the British side as well.

“Squaring the circle is finding solutions for very intricate and delicate problems that were created by decisions taken and decisions [that] have consequences.”

The protocol “took a few years to negotiate, I can guarantee that from listening to those who negotiated – and Michel Barnier and David Frost were among them – I can tell you that they turned every stone to try to find alternatives to this protocol. 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. So that what should be our focus. Our focus should be to implement the protocol,” the ambassador added.

Relations between the UK and the EU over Northern Ireland have also been strained after the partial implementation of the checks on the Irish sea but hit rock bottom four weeks ago when the UK decided to unilaterally delay the scheduled full implementation.

That decision is now the subject of legal action by the EU, which Brussels hopes can be averted through further negotiation.

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