Brexit Minister Says EU Proposal on NI Protocol ‘Ultimately Unacceptable’ Without Change in ECJ Role
09:51 GMT 15.10.2021 (Updated: 08:11 GMT 06.08.2022)
Responding to London’s arguments that the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the Brexit Withdrawal agreement was “not working”, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic on Wednesday unveiled Brussels’ plans that offer "a type of express lane that will facilitate the movement of goods across the Irish Sea".
The EU package of concessions
pertaining to the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol as they stand have been branded as “ultimately unacceptable” by David Frost.
London’s Brexit minister told Politico in an interview that the British government recognized the effort made by Brussels , but “theirs is not the only proposal on the table and our command paper and the legal text that we sent the Commission this week are where we need to end up and we need to begin that conversation.”
According to Frost, the European Union needs to make significant change on the contentious governance issue if a solution is to be hammered out regarding the Northern Irish part of the Brexit divorce deal.
"All I can say is the governance issue needs to be addressed seriously and if the EU are willing to have a conversation about that on which they move off existing positions obviously we will be happy to have that conversation," stated Frost.
The minister, who has for months urged the EU to allow changes to the protocol to ease trade in some goods between Britain and Northern Ireland, said that London was studying the package of proposals constructively, but there was still “quite a long way to go.”
The UK had been waiting for the European Commission to offer a response to its Command Paper on the Northern Ireland Protocol since July, added David Frost. “If it had come sooner that would have been even better,” he added succinctly.
Frost dismissed criticism from some quarters that he was arguing for tearing up the very Brexit deal he signed just last year, insisting that some of its elements were intended to be “left open for the discussions in 2020 and afterwards.”
“I don’t think it’s surprising that we found that that was the case … the very fact that the protocol has a consent mechanism in it for four years time, showed we recognized that it might be necessary to renew or otherwise consent for these arrangements. In that sense they have always been a little bit provisional and open to review,” said Frost in the interview.
Britain’s Brexit negotiator is scheduled to travel to Brussels on Friday to meet with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, who was cited as saying he would be “very happy” if “we could start the new year with a new agreement in place.”
Sefcovic was quoted by Reuters as saying the Commission proposals were “really ticking all the boxes”.
“I think what is very, very important to say here is that there will be no next package like this one,” he said.
Responding to London’s threat to trigger the protocol’s Article 16 safeguard measure if solutions were not found, Sefcovic said the EU’s potential courses of response were all set out in the Brexit divorce deal and the trade agreement signed in December 2020.
EU Package of Concessions
The European Commission outlined proposed changes in four main areas of the Northern Ireland Protocol on Wednesday, pertaining to customs checks, food safety and phytosanitary rules, medicines and governance. The 27-member bloc touted them as offering "a type of express lane that will facilitate the movement of goods across the Irish Sea.
on the transport of certain foods, plants and items of animal origin from Great Britain into Northern Ireland will be slashed by 80%. Customs paperwork will ostensibly be cut by 50%, in line with the new offer. The EU is also prepared to broaden the definition of what products arriving from Britain will be designated as “not at risk” of entering the wider single market from Northern Ireland to include a wider group of businesses and products.
The proposal opens up the possibility of free flow of medicines between Great Britain and Northern Ireland via amended EU laws. Mechanisms will be altered to allow for participation of Northern Ireland politicians and communities in implementation of the NI protocol.
The British side is expected to ensure properly functioning border inspection posts, with Brussels granted access to real-time data to monitor "every link in the supply chain". However, the EU proposals do not address the “final arbiter” role of the European Court of Justice
(ECJ in alleged breaches of the NI protocol.
Senior EU figures dismissed the UK demand to remove this oversight as an “impossibility" on Thursday
“It’s very clear that you cannot have access to the single market without supervision of the ECJ,” stated Sefcovic.
Following the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020, as a result of Brexit negotiations an effective Irish Sea border was created to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the Brexit Withdrawal agreement stipulates that Northern Ireland remains part of the UK's customs territory but has to adhere to certain EU rules to allow goods to move freely into the Republic and the rest of the EU.
The UK and EU had sought to protect the Northern Ireland peace deal (the Good Friday agreement) by ensuring that the land border between the Republic of Ireland (remaining in the EU) and Northern Ireland (in the UK) remain open.
David Frost, one of the original architects of the deal, had emphasised that the protocol was “not working on the ground” in Northern Ireland, and was threatening to jeopardise the 1998 Belfast agreement, potentially unleashing a fresh spate of sectarian violence.