European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic has rejected an accusation that the European Union (EU) is using Northern Ireland to punish the United Kingdom for Brexit.
DUP leader Edwin Poots claimed the region is being used as a “plaything” by Europe, with more checks on goods from Britain at ports per week than take place in Rotterdam once grace periods end.
He accused the EU of doing “demonstrable harm to every individual in Northern Ireland”, adding it is having a “devastating impact”.
Mr Poots said the UK Government has the grounds to trigger Article 16 to put the brakes on the Protocol due to “economic and societal damage”, warning about future difficulties in receiving food and medicines.
“We have violence on our streets in Northern Ireland, which hasn’t been the case for years, and that’s on the back of this Protocol,” he said.
Also appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Sefcovic said they searched for four years for the “best solution to the very sensitive situation in Northern Ireland”.
He said for the EU and the UK it was “very clear” that was the Northern Ireland Protocol.
He also urged a focus on policies and politics that unite than divide and to look at the Protocol as an “opportunity” for Northern Ireland.
Mr Sefcovic said he wants to meet the Northern Ireland Executive parties before the next Joint Committee, which is expected to take place in the middle of June.
“I would like to hear from Mr Poots himself but also from other leaders of the political parties who form the Northern Ireland Executive and discuss with them what we can do better,” he said.
Mr Poots also said while the European Commission over the years “put their heart and soul into winning peace in Northern Ireland”, they currently “don’t seem to care for the peace process … that really needs to change, that attitude needs to change”.
“This is the European Union seeking to punish the United Kingdom. As a consequence, Northern Ireland is being used as a plaything for the European Union,” he said.
“I can assure you Northern Ireland should be nobody’s plaything, we are citizens of the United Kingdom, we were citizens of the European Union and we deserve to be treated with the same respect as everyone else.”
Mr Sefcovic mooted a Switzerland-type agreement on a temporary basis which would “get rid of 80% of checks”.
“I think it would be the right thing to do, it would calm down the situation,” he said.
He reiterated his opposition to a hard border on the island of Ireland and called for more co-operation between the EU and the UK.
However, Mr Poots responded by saying he wanted to see a permanent solution.
“The permanent solution is to take the barriers away between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and provide security in terms of the single market that goods that are entering the European Union from Great Britain have the appropriate checks,” he said.
“I believe we can eradicate virtually all of the risks to the single market by having checks on the goods that are going to the European Union based in Northern Ireland. That deals with the single market issue and it still allows all of the food and all of the medicines that are travelling to Northern Ireland from Great Britain without huge costs, £25 million per year, being added to the public purse.”