Brexit: Frost calls for ‘flexible’ approach to Northern Ireland Protocol
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European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic announced new proposals for the Northern Ireland Protocol today after the UK said the agreement was not working for Northern Ireland or the rest of the UK. Brexit Minister Lord David Frost called for an “intensive talks process” with the EU earlier today – saying the current Protocol was “undermining” the Good Friday Agreement.
European Union MEPs have vowed to black efforts by Britain to reopen the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Some senior members of the European Parliament have accused Lord Frost of acting in “bad faith”.
The Brexit Minister said the EU had “moved significantly” in its position on the Protocol ahead of today’s announcement.
Lord Frost told broadcasters: “So we need to find a solution everybody can get behind, and that means looking at some of the fundamentals, it means we need to get to a solution of significant change.
“Obviously, we haven’t seen what the Commission has put forward, I hope they have moved significantly, and obviously we will look at it positively if they have, but we’ll wait and see what they come forward with, and then we’ll see what we can do.”
Mr Sefcovic outlined Brussel’s decision on British proposals for Northern Ireland.
He announced the EU will scrap up to 50 percent of customs checks on British goods entering Northern Ireland.
These same rules will also apply to meat and plant products.
Using real-time data, European customs officials would monitor trade across the Irish Sea to establish a risk-based system that would allow businesses in the province to submit simplified paperwork for any shipments from Great Britain.
UK and EU negotiators will draw up a list of food products which are deemed to be of significant national importance – including sausages.
The EU has refused to offer any concessions on the movement of pets, such as dogs, cats and ferrets, between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.
The Commission said the introduction of pet passports would only be possible if the UK agrees to dynamically align to the bloc’s animal and food safety rules.
Medicines is another area where the EU is proposing real change.
The EU spokesman said the EU wants to offer a derogation allowing pharmaceutical firms based in Britain to continue supplying cheap generic medicines to Northern Ireland.
Medicine companies will not be required to move their regulatory functions to the bloc which means essentially companies will not have to move a large chunk of their operation to Northern Ireland to keep selling products in the province.
The European Commission also wants to improve dialogue with stakeholders in Northern Ireland over the functioning and implementation of the protocol.
The bloc will enact this by establishing a structured forum to discuss problems which arise from the measures to avoid a hard border with civil society and businesses in the region – in a bid to make the protocol more transparent.
The EU will also set up a website to show what EU legislation has a direct effect on the people and businesses of Northern Ireland and how the rules impact the region.
Mr Sefcovic kicked off his speech stating now is “an important moment” in EU-UK relations.
He said the package outlined by the EU “has real, tangible” potential to make a real impact on the ground.
The EU spokesman said: “If I were to label these solutions, I would dub them ‘the package of enhanced opportunities’,” he says. “This is in fact our core purpose.
“The EU has an unwavering commitment to the people of Northern Ireland and for this reason to the implement of the Protocol which brings out the unique advantages of dual access to EU and UK markets.”
He called on the UK to “do its part” and ensure processes are adhered to.
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Ahead of Mr Sefcovic’s address on Wednesday, the bloc accused the UK Government of being a “troublemaker”.
The EU maintained the European Court of Justice’s oversight would remain as long as Northern Ireland remained within the Single Market.
Boris Johnson’s former top advisor Dominic Cummings today claimed the UK Government always intended to “ditch” the Northern Ireland Protocol.
On Twitter, he claimed the Government “wriggled through with best option we could [negotiate with the EU]” and then intended to “ditch bits we didn’t like after whacking [Labour leader Jeremy] Corbyn” in the general election in December 2019.
The former top aide added the plan was to pass an Internal Market Bill, which would override parts of what had been agreed with Brussels.
What do the measures mean for the UK and Northern Ireland Protocol?
After the Brexit transition period ended on December 31, 2020, an Irish Sea border was effectively created to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Protocol states Northern Ireland remains part of the UK’s customs territory but has to comply with certain EU rules to allow goods to move freely into the Republic and the rest of the EU.
Checks have been undertaken on goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK – causing delays and sparse supermarket shelves and prompting some suppliers to stop selling to Northern Ireland because checks made the process too difficult.
Brussels negotiators will travel to London to discuss these measures.
The talks are due to begin on Thursday and could lead to a solution after months of bickering between the UK and EU.
Predominantly, the EU has proposed to make huge changes regarding customs, sanitary and phytosanitary products, medicines and the relationship and dialogue for those impacted by the Northern Ireland Protocol.
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