The UK told the EU in February of last year it wished to maintain an EU office in Belfast after Brexit, RTÉ News has learned.

The UK told the EU in February of last year it wished to maintain an EU office in Belfast after Brexit, RTÉ News has learned.
The request was made in an exchange of letters between the British Foreign Office and the EU’s diplomatic service.
The UK position 14 months ago, as reflected in the correspondence, is in sharp contrast to the flat rejection of an EU office in Belfast under Boris Johnson’s government.
In one letter, the UK expressed the wish for the EU to keep offices in Belfast, as well as in Edinburgh, Cardiff and London.
The letters were exchanged between Simon McDonald, the Permanent Secretary to the Foreign Office, and Helga Schmid, the Secretary-General of the European Union External Action Service (EEAS).
In Feburary 2019 the EU had sought a continuing presence in Belfast beyond Brexit because of the Irish Protocol, which was then the backstop, and the EU’s continued commitment to PEACE funding.
According to an extract of one letter to the EU, Mr McDonald wrote: “The UK government supports the continued presence of EU offices in Edinburgh and Cardiff, alongside London and Belfast, given the longstanding relationship the EU has with all three devolved nations.”
The extract casts doubt on UK claims that the issue had never been discussed with the EU, and that a request in February of this year for a continued EU presence in Belfast came as a surprise.
Ms Schmid again wrote to Mr McDonald on 12 February of this year saying the EU wanted to maintain a permanent presence in Belfast in order to facilitate the European Commission’s oversight of the implementation of the revised Irish Protocol.
The EU has argued that Article 12 of the Protocol provides for EU technical officials to oversee the checks and controls being carried out by UK officials on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Ms Schmid said the EU needed “very particular capabilities and competences on the ground, distinctive from the more traditional competences of any other EU delegation.”
She hoped the office would be up and running by the summer of 2020, in time for the transition period to end and the new system to take effect on 1 January.
However, on this occasion Mr McDonald issued what officials described as a terse refusal. 
In a follow up letter on 25 March, Ms Schmid insisted Article 12 of the Protocol gave the EU certain rights and it was “necessarily within the discretion of the EU to determine the extent to which it wishes to exercise these rights.” 
She added: “At least during the initial phase of the application of the Protocol, the EU will want to avail of these rights on an ongoing basis. To do so effectively, an office in Belfast staffed by technical experts is indispensable.”
However, the request was rejected a second time in a letter sent on Monday of this week by Penny Mordaunt MP, a minister of state and paymaster general.  She wrote: “The UK cannot agree to the permanent EU presence based in Belfast.”
Ms Mordaunt said there was no requirement in the Protocol for such a presence, and that it would be “divisive in political and community terms.”
An EU official told RTÉ News: “The UK cannot have been taken by surprise by this. The possibility of opening an office in Belfast has been discussed for a long time at this stage. The EU has been consistent on this point.”
The EU has argued that because Article 12 of the Protocol foresees EU customs, veterinary and other officials overseeing customs and regulatory checks and controls carried out by UK staff on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, then it made sense for the EU to have a physical office in Belfast.
The British government has argued that there is no legal requirement in Article 12 for such an office, and that it would be divisive.
The issue was raised by both sides during the first meeting of a specialised committee, set up under the Withdrawal Agreement, on Thursday.
In an intervention to the video conference, the Irish government said an EU presence would be the “logical” reflection of Article 12 and “ongoing EU support for the peace process”.
It is understood the UK will bring forward new proposals on a replacement for an EU office in Belfast. However, the EU is expected to maintain the demand for a permanent EU presence.