The EU still needs to make significant changes to the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol if the system survives, the UK’s Brexit minister warned this week, pouring cold water on Brussels’ efforts to make concessions.
Lord David Frost is making this comment because the EU is proposing to abolish many border controls between Northern Ireland and the British mainland, in an attempt to reduce trade tensions with a part of the UK that is effectively a single part of the European market.
A commission paper on EU exemptions is expected to be approved next week, including allowing free distribution of many food products across the Irish Sea, reducing the likelihood of what some have called a “sausage war”, a situation where the cold Meat will be banned from entering Northern Ireland in Great Britain.
EU officials say the total number of customs checks will be cut in half.
However, the offer is much less than the British requirement that trade with Belfast should be as easy as trade with Birmingham, as well as demanding the removal of European Court of Justice oversight from the agreement.
Lord Frost is expected to be warned in a speech in Lisbon on Tuesday: The Commission has been quick to dismiss the regime as a side effect. The reality is the opposite.
“The inability of the UK government to reasonably implement the role of the European Court of Justice in Northern Ireland and the highly sensitive provisions of the Protocol has created a deep imbalance in the way the Protocol is handled.
“Unless there is a new system in this region, the protocol will not get the support it needs to survive.”
In 2020, Frost agreed to the Protocol, which laid down some EU rules in Northern Ireland to prevent a difficult border with Ireland. Failure to maintain an open border risks spreading community tensions between Protestants and Catholics in the north, which has improved significantly since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
UK officials have threatened to suspend the protocol altogether by applying Article 1 of the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement, if almost all checks are not canceled.
“Shaking around the edges won’t work,” an official said. “If the EU cannot show ambition and agree to a significant change in the protocol, we must use Article 16 to ensure that the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and the peace process are secured.”
The United Kingdom warned in July that the use of Article 1 had already reached its limit, but was delaying its use to find a solution. The EU has for the same reason backtracked on legal action it took earlier this year for violating the terms of the UK Protocol.
Once triggered, Article 16 will require a set of negotiations and, if no agreement, possible legal and trade sanctions.
In a speech last week, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefkovic ruled out the removal of the ECG as the final arbiter of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
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