Your fault, Leo! Ex-Irish leader blamed as UK’s relationship with EU teeters on the brink

Andrew Marr clashes with Sefcovic over Northern Ireland

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Ray Bassett was speaking at the end of a week in which Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and a close ally of Mr Varadkar, became embroiled in a war of words with Lord David Frost, the UK’s Brexit minister on the subject. The pair clashed on social media after Mr Coveney accused Britain of creating a “new red line” with respect to the mechanism for preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland by demanding the removal of the European Court of Justice as the legal body which adjudicates on disputes.

Mr Frost swiftly hit back, pointing out Britain had outlined its concerns about the ECJ in the Command Paper published on July 21, adding: “The problem is that too few people seem to have listened.”

Mr Bassett, Ireland’s former ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, suggested the spat highlighted the precarious position which his country was now in, questioning the wisdom of the decision to side with Brussels.

He told Express.co.uk: “On the Coveney/Frost interventions, Ireland now finds itself in a dangerous position as relations between the EU and Britain head for yet another crisis.

“In the circumstances, Coveney and Leo Varadkar should reflect on the role they played in rejecting earlier British efforts at a compromise under David Cameron and insisting on the Backstop which ended the career of Theresa May.”

Mr Bassett added: “Now Ireland is potentially faced with a difficult dilemma, should trade relations between Brussels and London break down, namely whether to have controls on the Irish land border or controls between the Irish Republic and the European Mainland.

“Regardless of the issue of the UK seeking to change the Withdrawal Treaty, it should never have come to this.”

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The Protocol is highly controversial because critics in the Unionist community claim that, by effectively keeping Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market, it has resulted in a border down the Irish Sea – hence cutting it off from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Given the ECJ is the bloc’s top court, Brexiteers argue it is incapable of being a fair arbiter, but will instead always side with the bloc.

Mr Bassett was speaking before Lord Frost’s speech in Lisbon this week, during which he reiterated Britain’s demand of the removal of the court’s role.

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Mr Frost said: “The fundamental difficulty is that we are being asked to run a full-scale external boundary of the EU through the centre of our country, to apply EU law without consent in part of it, and to have any dispute on these arrangements settled in the court of one of the parties.

“The way this is happening is disrupting ordinary lives, damaging large and small businesses, and causing serious turbulence to the institutions of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement within Northern Ireland.”

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, Mr Sefcovic unveiled a number of concessions, including significant reductions in the number of checks and regulations on goods entering Northern Ireland.

He said: “I think what is our aim today is to stay on a positive note.

“To stay on the benefits which this package and which the deal’s market access is offering Northern Ireland.

“And I believe that what we have presented today is such an appealing picture that we would really like to focus all our constructive and creative energy on how to make this as good as possible for the people and the businesses in Northern Ireland.

“And I believe that what we have presented today is such an appealing picture that we would really like to focus all our constructive and creative energy on how to make this as good as possible for the people and the businesses in Northern Ireland.

“So I want to focus on the positive agenda and I want to focus on the solutions and I hope that Lord Frost will join me in that effort.

“I hope that we share the same goal of making sure the businesses and people of Northern Ireland benefits from the dual market.”

However, crucially he insisted: “You cannot have access to the single market without the jurisdiction of the ECJ.”

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