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Baerbock looks to tackle Brexit ‘Achilles heel’ on London visit

BERLIN (AFP) – German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said yesterday the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU) needed to find a “responsible and pragmatic solution” to frictions over post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland.

“The implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol is the Achilles heel in relations between the EU and the UK,” Baerbock said in a statement ahead of her first official visit to London yesterday.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is an adjunct to the EU-UK Brexit divorce deal.

It seeks to respect the 1998 peace accord for Northern Ireland by ensuring there is an open land border between the UK territory and Ireland.

As such, Northern Ireland remains in the EU’s single market, in order to avoid checks on goods travelling from and to EU member Ireland.

But checks have to happen somewhere – so the UK has agreed to a de facto trade border down the Irish Sea to prevent goods coming from England, Scotland and Wales from entering the EU free market uncontrolled via Northern Ireland.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock during the ‘Seminario Diplomatico’ annual conference in Lisbon. PHOTO: AFP

That has infuriated pro-UK unionists in Northern Ireland, who say the arrangement drive a wedge between their community and the three other UK nations.

Siding with them, London has unveiled legislation to drastically overhaul the protocol unilaterally.

The EU continues to insist that the protocol be implemented in full, to prevent shoddy, unsafe or untaxed goods entering its single market via Northern Ireland.

“It is crucial that we find a responsible and pragmatic solution on the basis of the current agreement,” Baerbock said.

“We cannot turn back time but we can choose a good future together.”

The German minister said yesterday’s talks with her British counterpart James Cleverly would also cover the provision of further support for Ukraine, including weapons.