Tony Connelly tells Derry Chamber : ‘Stakes are very high’ as EU set to deliver new NI Protocol proposals

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Tomorrow will see the EU table proposals on the NI Protocol which will have major implications for the future of Derry, the border region and the island of Ireland, RTÉ Europe correspondent Tony Connelly has told Derry’s Chamber of Commerce.

Maroš Šefcovi, the EU’s chief interlocutor on the NI Protocol, Mr Connelly told those gathered at the Chamber President’s annual dinner in the Everglades, “is going to bring in a bunch of proposals to the College of Commissioners - the 27 EU commissioners” on Wednesday.

The Derry journalist said: “The EC has been working on proposals that will ease the implementation of the NI Protcotol on a range of issues, firstly medicines, customs, agri-food (the movement of goods from GB to NI), and finally governance - the role the NI institutions will have in overseeing the implementation of the protocol, having some kind of purchase on how it operates. These proposals are going to be absolutely critical over the next few months, and they will be critical for what happens here in Derry, Belfast, and other parts of NI, along the border and on the island of Ireland. It’s fair to say the stakes are very high. There has been escalated tension between Britian and EU on a number of issues but none more that the NI Protocol and the Irish question. It has been a festering wound since the Protocol was negotiated in October 2019 and it has almost defined the difficult relationship between EU and UK since January 1 this year.”

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Mr Connelly said a range of other issues had exacerbated that. “It has not been a happy time but I think the greatest of those is the NI Protocol... there is a lot at stake in the coming days.” He broke down the four areas the EU proposals will centre on and said the Commission “has been looking at these issues in great detail since the UK presented its demand paper on July 21”.

RTÉ Europe Editor Tony Connelly and dinner host Sarah Travers.RTÉ Europe Editor Tony Connelly and dinner host Sarah Travers.
RTÉ Europe Editor Tony Connelly and dinner host Sarah Travers.

In Brussels there has been a decision taken, he said, that the Protocol can no longer dominate the EU-UK narrative at a time when there were major issues such as the COVID pandemic, migration, the rule of law etc to deal with. “There was a realisation that this cannot be the dominant issue that takes up all of the energy and effort and bandwidth of European policy making. That’s not to say that the EU decided that they would just give the UK what it wants on Northern Ireland, but that they would try to reduce the temperature, make this a technical question rather than a political one.”

He said the EU appeared to be focussing on pragmatic solutions that work for consumers and businesses here and technical fixes to a treaty both sides had signed up to. “The big question is, how will the UK respond?” he added.