The Irish government must recognize the damage the Northern Ireland Protocol is doing to political stability in Northern Ireland, the DUP chief told Tanaiste.
Leo Varadkar was meeting Sir Jeffrey Donaldson on Thursday to assess post-Brexit arrangements and Covid recovery.
The Fine Gael chief said Sir Jeffrey “has not mince words” on the DUP’s assessment of the difficulties created by the controversial post-Brexit deal.
The protocol, which is part of the UK-Brussels Brexit divorce deal, effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single goods market.
This means checks on goods sent from Britain to the single market and in some cases could result in bans on certain products that do not comply with EU rules.
The protocol was put in place to ensure there would be no hard border with Ireland, but instead it placed a trade barrier in the Irish Sea and is deeply unpopular with trade unionists, who insisted for it to be deleted.
Sir Jeffrey said: “I have made it clear that the protocol harms our relations with the rest of the UK.
“It undermined that relationship, it violated the Belfast Accord, it violated the Act of Union, it is hurting political progress in Northern Ireland.
“He has the ability to undermine political progress here so much that he sets us back.”
Sir Jeffrey continued: “I have made it clear, as I made clear to the Irish Prime Minister last week, that this situation is not sustainable. The protocol, the border of the Irish Sea, must disappear.
“So we have been very clear to Leo Varadkar that the Irish government must very quickly recognize the damage this protocol is causing to political stability in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Varadkar said: “I had a very good meeting with Jeffrey and his team and he was very frank, he did not mince words on their assessment of the protocol and the difficulties they think it creates. . “
Mr Varadkar also met with business representatives during his two-day visit to Northern Ireland.
“I think in a lot of ways there are two sides to protocol and two sides to the coin and I think in fairness to Jeffrey he recognized that as well,” Varadkar added.
“A lot of business people tell me that this has resulted in a significant increase in north / south trade, both ways, and that it has been beneficial to them.
“It has also led to an increase in investment demands in Northern Ireland due to the unique position Northern Ireland now occupies with access to the European single market and the UK market.
“I would say this is something that no other jurisdiction has, but at the same time, the real practical difficulties for businesses in terms of forms to fill out, additional costs which will escalate at the end of the grace period. , there are therefore two sides to this coin.
He said the Republic and England were also affected by the trade disruption.
“We know that in England Nando’s struggles to find staff, McDonald’s struggles to get milkshakes, it’s hard to find carriers, and the protocol doesn’t apply to England, but they also have these problems, ”he added.
“I think some of the issues blamed on the protocol are actually Brexit issues, which are also being experienced in the Republic and England.”
He said the Irish government and the EU never wanted trade barriers between the two islands.
Mr Varadkar also said he would not oppose the extension of the grace periods, but said it would not resolve the underlying difficulties.
“This is delaying things and, in my opinion, from Jeffrey Donaldson, that would not be an acceptable result on their part anyway,” said the head of Fine Gael.
“It would be better to reach an agreement, but if it takes more time to find the time to ratify an agreement, that would be reasonable.”
When Mr Varadkar was told he was a ‘figure of hate’ in unionism because of his role in the Brexit negotiations, he said there were a lot of people who considered him as the “architect” of the protocol.
“For me, protocol has only ever been a means to an end,” he said.