By Aine Fox, PA
The UK government wants to face challenges “in friendship and in partnership” with Ireland, a Conservative MP has insisted as disagreement over the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill continues.
Northern Ireland Office minister Conor Burns said Dublin is the UK’s “closest” partner in Europe, after the Tánaiste said he had “never seen relations as bad” with UK ministers.
This week, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he believes the UK is “not being even-handed” when it comes to the protocol.
He said that, in his political lifetime, he has “never seen relations as bad” with UK ministers.
Speaking to BBC Northern Ireland’s The View programme, Mr Varadkar said: “We have a British government that doesn’t want to work hand in glove with the Irish government. It’s not even-handed, it’s a government that wants to continue to have rows with the EU even though they’ve left.
“I think trust needs to be restored. The best way they can do that is by de-escalating this.”
MPs voted on Monday to give the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – legislation designed to override parts of the post-Brexit deal – a second reading.
The DUP has repeatedly said it will not nominate ministers to allow a new Stormont Executive to be formed until the UK takes action on its concerns around the protocol.
However, the move by the UK has been branded illegal and a clear breach of international law.
Asked for his response to Mr Varadkar’s comments, Mr Burns said the UK government has been “very clear that we want a negotiated solution to the protocol”.
He told reporters in Belfast: “We want to engage with Dublin. We want to engage with the EU. We’re very clear that we want a negotiated solution to the protocol.
“But in the absence of a wider mandate from (European Commission) vice president (Marcos) Sefcovic, we have really little alternative other than to pursue that legislative route that we’re doing now.
“I don’t believe in conducting these sort of discussions on the airwaves, but Dublin are our closest partners in Europe, we share so many things in common, we have so many interests and challenges that we face together and we want to face those in friendship and in partnership.”
Meanwhile, DUP MP Gavin Robinson warned Mr Varadkar that “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” as he described the Irish politician’s engagement in Brexit discussions as never having been “anything less than partisan”.
Mr Robinson said: “He could have stepped back, he could have recognised that there is a problem with the protocol, that there are issues that need to be ironed out and he could put his shoulder to the wheel to provide that solution for everyone in Northern Ireland.
“He chose not to do so. He did so in a way that would lead someone like me to say people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones because I’ve yet to see Leo Varadkar engage in a discussion around the European Union, around Brexit or around the protocol in a way that is anything less than partisan.”