The EU is trying to make the UK “feel bad” about Brexit through its approach to dealing with the Northern Ireland Protocol, Jacob Rees-Mogg has said.
However, Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has instead insisted that the UK Government would be acting in an “anti-democratic” way if it goes through with its threat to override elements of the post-Brexit treaty.
Government ministers have been increasingly hinting they could take unilateral action on the protocol, with Boris Johnson arguing the Good Friday Agreement is more important than the protocol he signed up to.
European leaders have warned the UK not to make the incendiary move, amid fears it could provoke a trade war with Britain’s largest trading partner.
Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland are opposed to the protocol, part of the UK-EU Brexit deal, because it keeps the region aligned with the EU single market for goods.
The DUP confirmed on Friday that it would not nominate a speaker for the first sitting of Northern Ireland’s devolved Stormont Assembly as part of its protest against the protocol trading arrangements.
This will leave the Assembly unable to function.
Mr Rees-Mogg, Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency told GB News: “I think it (the EU) wants to make the UK feel bad about having left the European Union and that underpins its whole policy and it doesn’t really mind about the consequences of that.
“And we just have to get on with life and recognise that we have left.
“We have to make our own way.
“We are an independent country, and what the EU wants and thinks is secondary.
“The Paymaster General, Michael Ellis, has made a speech in Brussels today, making it very clear that we are, if not at the end of the road, very close to it.
“To cancel the TCA (EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement), the European Union would need unanimity, and it seems to me that’s a pretty high bar to get.
“And you have to say to the European Union, does it really want to punish its consumers at a time of rising inflation?
“And inflation in a lot of the EU countries is higher than it is in the UK.”
Mr Rees-Mogg said the protocol needs to be revised and that the treaty provides for its revision.
But Mr Coveney said the EU wanted to implement the protocol with “flexibility and pragmatism” to take account of unionist concerns.
He told BBC Radio Four: “What is being looked for in Northern Ireland, from business people and many in the unionist community, what they want is to ensure that trade within the United Kingdom is facilitated and checks are removed when possible on goods that are staying in Northern Ireland.
“That is what the EU Commission wants to resolve but unfortunately they can’t do that if they don’t have a partner and there is a lot going on this week in the context of ratcheting up language, increasing tension unnecessarily between the UK and the EU.”
Asked what were the implications of the UK Government taking unilateral action on the protocol, Mr Coveney added: “People across the United Kingdom need to understand what that means, it means that your Government is deliberately deciding to breach international law, which is something that every former prime minister sill alive in Britain has warned against.
“It means that the British Government would be deliberately acting in an anti-democratic way because 53 of the 90 MLAs elected to the Assembly in Northern Ireland are supportive of the protocol.”
He added: “Don’t forget this treaty was designed and ratified and agreed by the British Government under this Prime Minister.
“He stood for election and got a huge mandate from the British people on the back of that deal and now is blaming the deal for the problems in Northern Ireland.”
In an interview with Bloomberg, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the the protocol is causing economic and political harm and called on the EU to be flexible.
He said: “It’s a serious situation.
“It’s important to me that we also protect the Good Friday Agreement and we resume powersharing in Northern Ireland.”