EU Offers to Ease Border Checks to Solve Northern Ireland Row
16:43 GMT 13.10.2021 (Updated: 21:30 GMT 13.10.2021)
© AFP 2021 / PAUL FAITHPolice and officials patrol as truckers carrying freight from Scotland disembark a ferry at the Port of Larne in County Antrim, Northern Ireland on January 1, 2021, as a new trade border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK began operating at 23:00 GMT on December 31, 2020.
UK Brexit Minister David Frost warned the EU on Tuesday that the Northern Ireland protocol, which regulates post-Brexit trade, "has to change" because it "is not working".
European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, who oversees EU relations with post-Brexit Britain, has offered to scrap 80 percent of border checks on food that enters Northern Ireland from Britain. He proposed a “bespoke Northern Ireland specific solution” during a press conference on Wednesday.
According to the commissioner, the plan applies to goods for sale in Northern Ireland only.
Aside from ditching checks on 80 percent of supermarket goods, trucks carrying mixed loads would be allowed to provide only one health certificate per journey, rather than one for each product.
13 October, 16:30 GMT
The EU will broaden the definition of what products flowing from Britain will be designated as “not at risk” of entering the wider single market from Northern Ireland.
In exchange for looser checks, the British side will have to make sure that border inspection posts are functioning, and Brussels officials have access to real-time data.
Sefcovic believes that these steps would enhance "stability and predictability" in Northern Ireland.
Swiftly reacting to the news, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has called the proposals a "starting point", but stressed that the ideas "fall far short of the fundamental change needed". The DUP stated it would study the papers in detail.
It is understood that Brussels nonetheless braces for the worst amid signs UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be reluctant to accept the offer.
“Primarily, it’s a call for the UK to be realistiс. Focus on providing certainty, stability and predictability rather than focus on these high level constitutional issues. We think that renegotiating the protocol would create uncertainty. And hat’s the opposite of what we need … There’s a reason why negotiations on the protocol lasted for three and a half years. And we think we’ve reached the only workable solution”, the Guardian cited a Brussels official as saying.
The newspaper earlier reported that the bloc was ready prepared to abandon up to 50 percent of post-Brexit customs checks on British goods entering Northern Ireland as part of its “far-reaching” proposals for fixing the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol.
The concessions come just a day after UK Brexit Minister David Frost made an impassioned plea to the bloc to allow for "significant change" to the Northern Ireland protocol because it "is not working".
"The EU and we have got into a low equilibrium, somewhat fractious relationship, but that it need not always be like that, but also that it takes two to fix it", Frost said during a Tuesday speech in Lisbon. "In short, let's try to get back to normal. With some effort of will, we could still, despite all the problems, be in a position where the poison is drawn from this issue entirely and it is removed from the diplomatic top table once and for all", Frost said.
At the same time, Frost stressed that Britain would not "gratuitously" trigger Article 16, a clause which allows for unilateral action if the Northern Ireland Protocol is deemed to be having a negative impact.
"It is our responsibility to safeguard peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and that may include using Article 16 if necessary".
The Northern Ireland protocol in the Brexit Withdrawal agreement introduced checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea as a compromise measure to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. During Brexit talks, the UK and EU had agreed that protecting the Northern Ireland peace deal (the Good Friday agreement) was a priority, keeping the land border between the Republic of Ireland (remaining in the EU) and Northern Ireland (in the UK) open to avoid new post-Brexit infrastructure-like border posts.
Under the agreement, the checks were supposed to be phased in through the use of so-called "grace periods", with the UK earlier unilaterally extending and enhancing some of these grace periods and, accordingly, angering the EU.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed up to the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol in 2020, however has since insisted it was agreed in haste and was no longer working for the people of Northern Ireland.