Mark Francois blasts EU ‘bullies’ as negotiations resume

Northern Ireland is a 'priority issue' for US says expert

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Conservative MP Mark Francois has criticised the EU for its behaviour in negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol, saying the UK will “simply refuse to be bullied”. This came after the EU ambassador to the UK, Joao Vale de Almeida, issued a warning to UK Prime Minister Liz Truss, saying the impending Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is “illegal” and “counterproductive”. He declined to comment on how the EU would respond if the Bill is passed into law, but said “we will not welcome it”.

Speaking at an event on the fringes of the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool last week, Mr Vale de Almeida added: “The EU will treat this as a very aggressive and hostile act.”

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill will allow the Government to unilaterally override parts of the controversial protocol and suspend elements of the agreement.

But hitting back at the EU ambassador, Mr Francois, Chairman of the European Research Group, said: “It is behaviour like this from the EU Ambassador that persuaded so many UK citizens to vote to Leave the EU in the first place!”

He added: “When will these people ever learn that we simply refuse to be bullied – and if they will not negotiate reasonably over the NI Protocol then we will have no option but to legislate directly, via the NI Protocol Bill.”

The impact of the new legislation would reportedly be even more far-reaching than the triggering of Article 16, which would still require checks on some goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

This comes as negotiations over the protocol resume today, with the EU saying there is a “new willingness” to negotiate.

The UK has been locked in talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol – which was agreed as part of the withdrawal agreement to avoid a hard border in Ireland post-Brexit – since October 2021.

The protocol allows Northern Ireland to remain within the EU’s single market for goods but it has faced criticism because a border was effectively created between Great Britain and Northern Ireland down the Irish Sea.

The border has led to delays, supermarket shortages and increased costs for businesses in Northern Ireland.

Mr Vale de Almeida told delegates at the conference that trust levels between the UK and the EU are “too low to produce good results”.

He said the communication levels between the UK and EU are “not normal” and “not necessarily in a good space”.

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The diplomat explained: “We need to raise them so that our leaders talk more often.

“It is not normal that we do not have a summit with the UK for a number of years.

“A few years ago we had two summits per year with Russia, I attended too many of them for my tastes. Where is the dialogue between our leaders?

“It is not happening and when it happens it is not necessarily in a good space.”

Speaking about the protocol negotiations, an EU source told the Times: “It is not in either side’s interest to have this hanging over us when we have bigger issues to contend with where we need to be co-operating.

“Until we get into the details . . . we can’t be certain that we can make it work, but there is a new willingness.”

A senior British government source added: “What we want is a period of intensive negotiations.

“As we’ve seen in the past you often need the pressure of a deadline to get things done.”

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