The remarks by Maros Sefcovic, vice-president of the European Commission, come as the row between the UK and France over post-Brexit fishing rights continues to escalate.
Writing in The Telegraph, Sefcovic said the package of “enhanced opportunities” for Northern Ireland that the EU put forward last month represented “a set of unprecedented and far-reaching practical solutions”, adding: “I am increasingly concerned that the UK government will refuse to engage with this and embark on a path of confrontation.”
The day after Sefcovic’s remarks were published, Brexit minister Lord Frost accused the EU of disregarding the many sensitivities involved in the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
In the foreword to a new paper by thinktank Policy Exchange, Lord Frost stated that the Protocol was starting to damage the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. “The insistence of the EU on treating these arrangements as like any other part of its customs and single market rules, without regard to the huge political, economic, and identity sensitivities involved, has destroyed cross-community consent well before the four-year mark… That is why we must return to the Protocol and deliver a more robust, and more balanced, outcome than we could in 2019. I hope the EU will in the end join us in that.”
The UK and French governments are currently engaged in a war of words over post-Brexit fishing licences. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said that the UK will be prepared to take legal action if France does not withdraw its threats to block British fishing boats from some French ports. France has accused the UK of making a political decision to bar a disproportionately high number of French fishing boats from UK and Channel Island waters.