Full-scale trade war over Northern Ireland protocol would be damaging for everyone, Martin says

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin has acknowledged that the European Union’s decision to resume its legal action against the UK after Westminster introduced legislation to change the Northern Ireland protocol marked “a step up”, but he still expressed hope that negotiations could continue to prevent a full-scale trade war.

“I think this [legal action] represents a step-up in the response from the European Union. That said, the European Union is still available and wants to bring a resolution to issues arising from the operations of protocols through substantive negotiations with the United Kingdom government,” Mr Martin said.

Speaking on Wednesday, the Taoiseach said that he believed “the only logical and rational way forward” was for the UK government to seriously engage in talks with the EU and the EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič, who has led the EU side in its negotiations.

“I would appeal to the UK government to engage in such negotiations because it’s extremely important that yes, we deal with the issues that have arisen, but we also make sure that we underpin economic growth and development in Northern Ireland,” Mr Martin said.

“As I said yesterday, and over the last number of days, for many sectors of Northern Ireland, industry protocol has been advantageous, particularly in terms of manufacturing and the entire agri-food industry.

Mr Martin said that a trade war would be very damaging all round in relation to the economies of the UK, Ireland and Europe, and he again reiterated that the only resolution to the impasse was through negotiation.

“The immediate focus now should be on commencing substantive negotiations between the United Kingdom government and the European Union in respect to the operation of the protocol. And that is our focus.

“Obviously, if the UK government pursues a unilateralist track without any engagement well that would then create challenges and real problems between the European Union and United Kingdom. Nobody wants that.

“I’ve been a regular contact with Maroš Šefčovič and with president [Ursula] von der Leyen – they are anxious to engage on the detail and other technical issues around the protocol for quite some time, [they] would have come forward with proposals last October, those proposals weren’t really reciprocated.”