EU to unveil proposals aimed at resolving NI Protocol row

The EU is due to produce its plans to resolve issues surrounding the protocol (Liam McBurney/PA).
European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic has promised ‘very far-reaching’ solutions.

The EU will later outline a range of proposals aimed at resolving the political stand-off over Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic has promised the measures will be “very far-reaching” and address issues over the movement of agri-food goods and medicines across the Irish Sea.

The proposals are expected to significantly reduce the number of checks required on goods being shipped into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Mr Sefcovic has also pledged to offer more of a voice for politicians and civic society in Northern Ireland on how the contentious trading arrangements operate.

While the measures may potentially go some way to reducing everyday friction on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, they are unlikely to satisfy a UK Government demand over the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

On Tuesday, UK Brexit negotiator Lord Frost made clear the removal of the ECJ’s oversight function in relation to the protocol was a red line for the Government.

Under the terms of the deal struck by the UK and EU in 2019, the ECJ would be the final arbitrator in any future trade dispute between the two parties on the operation of the protocol.

The UK now wants to remove that provision and replace it with an independent arbitration process.

Mr Sefcovic has insisted that the EU will not move on the ECJ issue.
UK Brexit minister Lord Frost has demanded the removal of the ECJ’s oversight role in the NI Protocol (Peter Byrne/PA).
He has pointed out that Northern Ireland would be unable to retain single market access – a key provision of the protocol – if the arrangement was not subject to oversight by European judges.

It is anticipated that the EU proposals, along with a wish list of reforms outlined by the Government in July, will form the basis of a new round of negotiations between Brussels and London in the weeks ahead.

The protocol was agreed by the UK and EU as a way to sidestep the major obstacle in the Brexit divorce talks – the Irish land border.

It achieved that by shifting regulatory and customs checks and processes to the Irish Sea.

The arrangements have created new economic barriers on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

This has caused disruption to many businesses in Northern Ireland and also created a major political headache for the Government, as unionists are furious at what they perceive as a weakening of the Union.

However, other businesses have benefited from the terms of the protocol, which provides Northern Ireland traders unique unfettered access to sell within the UK internal market and EU single market.
European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic has promised far-reaching proposals (Brian Lawless/PA).
One way the EU could potentially reduce red tape on the movement of agri-food goods between GB and NI would be to sanction a system that only applied checks to shipments at risk of onward movement into the Irish Republic.

Under such a system, a trusted trade scheme could allow retailers to declare that the final destination for goods being shipped from Great Britain was Northern Ireland.

This could pave the way for items due to be prohibited under the protocol, such as GB chilled meats, to continue to be allowed into the region.

Mr Sefcovic has already signalled that the EU is willing to change legislation to ensure no disruption of medical supplies into Northern Ireland.

Under the original terms of the protocol, the region was to fall within the EU regulatory zone for medicines from 2022 – a move that would have restricted the ability to import products from Great Britain.

But Mr Sefcovic has indicated that movement on ECJ oversight of the protocol should not be expected when he outlines the proposals later on Wednesday.

Addressing a virtual event in Dublin last week, he said: “If we are talking about the constructive solutions to the practical problems, I think that doing away with the European Court of Justice is not one of them.”

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