The introduction of the Northern Ireland Protocol has been “administratively extremely challenging”, the European Commission’s vice president has acknowledged.

Maros Sefcovic was speaking to the Irish Parliament’s EU Affairs Committee.

He said despite the difficulties, the protocol remains the “only solution” to the issues Brexit presents for Ireland.

He added he will meet Northern Ireland business and civic leaders on Thursday.

In a tweet on Tuesday night, DUP leader Arlene Foster said Mr Sefcovic must talk to “those hardest hit” by the Northern Ireland Protocol and those who opposed it when he conducts his meetings later this week.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is the part of the Brexit deal which prevents a hardening of the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

It does that by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods.

That has created a new trade border with Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Mr Sefcovic was facing questions about the events, which led to the commission invoking Article 16.

It is an emergency measure which allows parts of the protocol to be set aside.

The commission proposed using it as part of its export control measures for Covid vaccines.

‘We made the mistake’

The move provoked outrage across the political spectrum in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Mr Sefcovic said a mistake was made and Article 16 was never actually activated.

“We made the mistake, we acknowledged it, we corrected it.”

He said measures had been put in place to make sure it did not happen again.

Maros Sefcovic
Maros Sefcovic admitted the European Commission had made mistakes over Article 16

This includes a “clearing house” through which all issues relating to Northern Ireland must be assessed and evaluated.

The UK government has asked the EU for a long extension of “grace periods” where not all aspects of the protocol, relating to checks on goods, have been implemented.

‘Belfast masochists defending Brussels sadists’

Mr Sefcovic said the implementation of the protocol was a “two-way street” and the UK government has more to do.

He said that included giving the EU access to the UK’s customs and trade IT systems.

The DUP MLA Christopher Stalford said the situation around the Northern Ireland Protocol is akin to a position where “we have Belfast masochists defending Brussels sadists”.

His party opposes the protocol and is currently involved in a five-point plan of opposition.

Speaking at Stormont, his party colleague Diane Dodds, the Economy Minister, said the boycott of north-south meetings would continue and described the Irish government as “cheerleaders” of the protocol.

Diane Dodds
The border arrangements have divided Stormont parties

The party is staying away from meetings as part of their opposition to it.

She told MLAs it cannot be “business as usual” and that “delicate balances” created by the Belfast Agreement had been “thrown out the window”.

Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald said the minister should engage with businesses rather than being involved with “silly political stunts”.

The SDLP MLA Sinead Bradley urged the DUP to end their boycott of north-south ministerial meetings.

Speaking in the Assembly, Sinead Bradley told Mrs Dodds that under the pledge of office it was “her duty to participate, not her choice”.

Diane Dodds said she was carrying out her duties as minister and abiding by the pledge.

Earlier she criticised the introduction of the protocol and said it had caused a fissure in the UK internal market.

Source: BBC