Taoiseach Micheal Martin has said it will be “very problematic” if the UK again extends unilaterally the grace period for Northern Ireland Protocol checks.
But speaking on the Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme on Sky News, Mr Martin also insisted a breakthrough between the EU and UK was still possible “if there’s a will there on both sides”.
His comments came after Boris Johnson escalated his dispute with the European Union by warning he will do whatever it takes to keep goods flowing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Following talks with the EU’s key figures on Saturday, the Prime Minister said he would not hesitate to take unilateral action to protect the position of Northern Ireland in the increasingly bitter row over post-Brexit trading arrangements.
The row – dubbed the “sausage war” – could mean chilled meats will not be shipped across the Irish Sea because of EU rules after the end of the month.
The UK is considering extending the current grace period without the consent of Brussels to ensure that sausages and mince can continue to reach Northern Ireland’s shops.
But Mr Martin told Sky News that the “channels do exist to get this resolved”.
He added: “In particular, the Sefcovic/Frost process should be fully explored and optimised to get an agreement and I think the prospects, in my view, if there’s a will there on both sides, and there is a will there from the European Union side I know that, I detect from the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the British Government is anxious to get a resolution of this, so I think we should work at it.”
Mr Martin said he believed an SPS agreement (on plant and animal health measures) could remove 80% of protocol checks.
When asked about the possibility of the UK unilaterally extending the grace period for checks, Mr Martin said: “I think it will be very problematic because it’s not about sausages per se, it really is about the fact that an agreement had been entered into, not too long ago, signed off by the British Government with the European Union.
“If there’s consistent, unilateral deviation from that agreement, that clearly undermines the broader relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom, which is in nobody’s interest and therefore that’s why the UK with the EU have to work very hard now in the coming weeks.
“I know the European Union are anxious to resolve this and want to resolve it but they need to see a similar reciprocity from the UK side.”
When asked if the protocol is undermining Northern Ireland’s place within the UK, Mr Martin said: “We’ve never seen the Protocol as a constitutional issue, it doesn’t in any way interfere with the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as defined and articulated in the Good Friday Agreement.
“We’re very clear from the Irish Government perspective on that, but we do believe in seamless trade on the island of Ireland, it makes sense. We believe in seamless trade insofar as we possibly can between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.”