Brexit: Arlene Foster accuses EU officials of being ‘tone deaf’

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Arlene Foster branded the joint committee meeting on the Northern Ireland protocol as ‘disappointing’. Photo: PA
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By Rebecca Black, PA

Northern Ireland’s First Minister has described a meeting of the UK and EU Joint Committee as “hugely disappointing”.

Arlene Foster also blasted European officials as “tone deaf” following discussions around the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“I can’t say I had high expectations for it given the attitude of the European Commission to everything that we have said thus far,” she told the BBC.

“It has been hugely disappointing that they haven’t listened to the voices of unionism, the majority community in Northern Ireland.

A freight lorry disembarking at Belfast Port. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

“What they have decided to do instead is, if there are problems then what is needed to deal with those problems is actually not less protocol but more protocol, and I think that that is entirely tone deaf.”

Ms Foster said that “even [UK minister] Michael Gove was slightly taken aback by the attitude of the European Union”.

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She said she looks forward to working with Mr Gove’s successor David Frost “in trying to find a replacement to the protocol which, of course, the protocol itself makes space for under Article 13, 8 of the protocol”.

Mrs Foster warned of “real and genuine difficulties” coming at the end of March when some of the grace periods for checks on some goods arriving into Northern Ireland will end.

“We’ve heard from some of our food service companies who are very concerned about the fact that they’ll not be able to bring in pre-prepared meat products from Great Britain at the end of March,” she said.

'Constructive'

However Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill took a different view, and described the meeting as “very constructive”.

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She said that the EU has offered to meet again in joint committee format before the end of March and further discussion at official level around SPS checks.

“I found that it was very timely we had the discussions that we had today, not least because it gave both sides, the EU side and also the British Government, the opportunity to, as they did, to restate their commitment to implement the protocol,” she said.

“It was very clear from the discussions that there was a recognition, particularly given the recent engagement with the local business community and civic society, that there are issues that need to be resolved, but both sides committed to try and define practical solutions and that’s where everyone needs to be focused right now.”

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