With Maros Sefcovic acting and speaking as an ally whilst painting the United Kingdom's Government as the enemy of Northern Ireland, the European Union is continuing to play a dangerous game in negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol, argues Jayne Adye.

While the EU had briefed the media – and anyone else who would listen – of forthcoming drastic compromises, when the EU Commission's Vice-President, Maros Sefcovic, put forward his proposals last week, what was presented was yet more window-dressing, with quick fixes put forward and old ideas given a makeover to seem more appealing. There were few significant changes, and perhaps a first rung on the ladder of what needs to be done, but now we face yet more negotiations put into the diary, without any sign of when they could come to an end. The hope many in Northern Ireland will have had for an end to perpetual uncertainty has been extinguished as quickly as it developed.

While it is welcoming to see the EU seemingly accepting that changes can be made to the Protocol – contrary to what they have been saying for the last 10 months – their actions and behaviour exposes their true intentions, which largely remain unchanged from the motivations behind the original 'Backstop'. They persist at every opportunity to try and keep the UK under EU control, while attempting to carve Northern Ireland away from the rest of the UK. After all, those around the former head of the EU's Civil Service, Martin Selmayr, were reported as claiming "Northern Ireland is the price the UK will pay for Brexit" during negotiations back in 2018.

Throughout his speech last week, Sefcovic consistently tried to pass himself off as 'the good guy' in these talks – open to compromise and listening to those involved – seeming to suggest the UK does not have the people of Northern Ireland's best interests at heart. However, he was not really talking about compromising or understanding the viewpoint of the UK Government. Several times he referred to the 'stakeholders' he had spoken to during his time visiting Northern Ireland – as if we just ignore them. His affable boasts may have sounded interesting, but it is the UK Government which is actually representing the people of Northern Ireland and their best interests, given they are part of our United Kingdom, not the European Union. The transparent attempts to paint those advocating for changes to the Protocol from within Westminster as somehow out of touch will not work.

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Key to Sefcovic's plan was clearly to try and convince those in Northern Ireland of the benefits of being separate from the rest of the UK. Why else would he be discussing Northern Ireland losing out on investment if it leaves the single market, other than trying to paint the UK Government as their enemy? These are debates we had back in 2016, and they do not need to be rehashed for any reason other than to bring up old resentments.

Sowing this kind of division in an already fractious situation like Northern Ireland is grossly irresponsible, dangerous, and makes a mockery of any supposed EU commitment to the Good Friday Agreement.

What the EU continues to fail to understand and refuses to accept is economic arguments are not what is important here. While there could be some economic advantages to being split between both the UK and the EU internal markets, the cultural toll of such a position would tear Northern Ireland apart and goes against every basic principle of a sovereign Northern Ireland within the UK. No matter how much the EU may wish it to be false, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom – not just legally, but economically and culturally. There are major differences which simply do not disappear overnight, however intense the negotiations may be.

For years, the EU has been trying to use Northern Ireland as a weapon against the UK in the Brexit negotiations, knowing at the time there was a not a strong enough parliament to vote for 'No Deal'. Now they are trying to manipulate underlying tensions to get the people of Northern Ireland to turn against the UK Government, with no regard for the potentially catastrophic cost of their actions. With behaviour like this, the EU proves they never cared about the Good Friday Agreement – and they never will – because to them the EU federal project comes before everything else.

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