Tory Brexiteers have been accused of using Britain’s departure from the EU as a “tool” to stoke long-term anti-European feeling and blaming self-imposed trade difficulties on Brussels, a Labour frontbencher has said.
He spoke as the EU considered legal action against the UK, after the government unilaterally extended a grace period that is currently limiting red tape associated with the protocol governing trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said the UK’s move to disregard parts of the Brexit deal Boris Johnson agreed was “very frustrating”, and a sign the EU is negotiating with a partner it “simply cannot trust”.
McFadden suggested some Tories might welcome tension as it allows them to blame the “nightmare of paperwork, cost increases, delays” for exporters to the EU associated with leaving the European single market on Brussels.
“We have to be really careful here that these issues don’t result in just ongoing grievance and bad feeling between the UK and the EU,” he told Commons People.
“If I was a cynic I’d say for some people in the Conservative Party that’s the perfect outcome.
“That you can continue, outside the EU, to blame them for all the difficulties, all the paperwork, all the form-filling, all the extra costs and so on, and never have to acknowledge that that was actually because of the type of Brexit that you chose.
“And every time this comes up, you can add to the grievance perpetually.”
McFadden said Labour would seek to re-establish “goodwill” with the EU in order to improve market access for the UK “within the parameters of the deal that’s been agreed”.
“If we have basically a continuation of the British discussion about Europe that we had before Brexit, but just outside it [the EU], then it’s going to be more difficult to reach a better accommodation on those issues,” he said.
The Labour frontbencher stressed that Keir Starmer would not seek to renegotiate the current Brexit deal but instead try to improve the situation for businesses within the framework agreed by Johnson.
“He certainly won’t want to use the position of Britain being outside the EU as a convenient tool for grievance against it,” McFadden said.
“He’s not that kind of personality for a start, nor is he a nationalist, so he won’t want to do those things.
“But the next election is a long way away. I’m not sure he’ll want to be talking about negotiating the deal or anything like that.”
The Northern Ireland protocol was designed by the EU and UK to avoid a hardening of the border on the island of Ireland.
It achieved that by keeping Northern Ireland aligned to various EU rules, meaning checks are now required on goods arriving into the region from Great Britain.
But it is adding to tensions in the region.
Loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland have withdrawn their support for the historic Good Friday peace agreement in protest against arrangements they contend have driven an economic wedge between the region and the rest of the UK.
Their move was conveyed in a letter to both Johnson and Irish premier Micheal Martin.
Asked about the letter from the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), an umbrella group representing three outlawed paramilitary groups, Johnson indicated he had not seen the correspondence.
Speaking to broadcasters at Teesport, Middlesbrough, the prime minister added: “What I can say is we are taking some temporary and technical measures to ensure that there are no barriers in the Irish Sea, to make sure things flow freely between GB and NI, and that’s what you would expect.
“Obviously these are matters for continuing intensive discussions with our friends [the EU].
“I’m sure with a bit of goodwill and common sense all these technical problems are eminently solvable.”
Coveney, however, criticised the UK’s decision to unilaterally extend grace periods before more red tape is imposed on Northern Ireland under the terms of the protocol agreed by the PM.
“This is not the first time this has happened, that they [the EU] are negotiating with a partner that they simply cannot trust,” he told RTE.