Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has reiterated his desire to fix the problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol today, but said the government reserves its rights should current issues not be resolved.
Giving evidence to the Commons’ EU Scrutiny Committee, Mr Gove was initially quizzed by David Jones MP on the impact the Commission’s recent triggering of Article 16 has had on the stability of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“It was a moment when trust was eroded, when damage was done and when movement was required to ensure we have an appropriate reset”, replied Gove.
“It was the case that the Commission document [to trigger Article 16] was published without any real notice given to the UK government or for that matter to the Irish Government.
“Article 16 exists in order to protect the people of Northern Ireland, it is not there in order to make sure the EU’s own vaccine procurement programme can be salvaged in whatever way by taking this sort of action. That is completely inappropriate.”
Mr Gove insisted the speed with which the Commission acted, and without giving care to due process outlined in the agreement “took us and others by surprise” and suggested the “Commission owes its members states a fuller explanation of why it acted in the way that it did.”
“Whatever, its reasons the consequences were undoubtedly damaging for the smooth operation of the Protocol and they had an adverse impact on trust in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Gove also took aim the the Commission’s implementing regulation surrounding vaccine export restrictions, revealing that although the prime minister had received assurances from Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen that exports to Britain would not be obstructed, the EU’s recent behaviour had opened “Pandora’s Box… and that is concerning.”
“I think it is possible lessons to be learned. I want to see us have a cordial relationship with the European Union. It’s important that we look to see how the damage that was done can be repaired”, said the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster diplomatically.
When quizzed about the future viability of the Northern Ireland Protocol by Conservative MP, Richard Drax, Mr Gove admitted “it’s not working at the moment” but assured the committee that “it can be made to work.”
“There are disruptions and difficulties faced by Northern Ireland citizens in their daily lives that need to be resolved. They can be resolved within the context of the protocol – we don’t need to ditch it in order to resolve these issues.”
However, in a word of warning to the European Commission should progress not be made on resolving the issues arising from current trade barriers within the UK internal market, Gove said the government could be prepared to take action in the future.
“As the prime minister has spelt out, if we can’t make progress in resolving those issues, then the UK Government has to reserve its rights.”