On Wednesday evening, the European Union presented proposals to improve the functioning of the Northern Ireland Protocol. It is now the main point of contention between her and the British Government.
According to the proposals presented by the European Union, the number of inspections of goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom would be reduced by 80%, and the number of customs formalities – by 50%. However, the plan to improve the functioning of the Northern Irish Protocol presented by the Vice-President of the European Commission, Marosz Szefczovicz, does not provide for changes in the supervision of the European Court of Justice over the protocol, which the British side also wants to change.
The EU made its proposals the day after David Frost, the UK’s EU relations minister, suggested adopting a new protocol to replace the current one and threatened that if Brussels refused to change, the British government would use Art. 16, allowing for the suspension of its application in justified cases.
What is the Northern Irish Protocol?
The Northern Ireland Protocol is part of the Brexit Agreement. It was created to prevent the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, as its absence was considered a precondition for the continuation of the peace process in that British province. But it does create a de facto customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, causing problems with the supply of goods, and Northern Irish unionists believe the protocol undermines Northern Ireland’s current status.
This actual customs border means that goods imported from Great Britain (i.e. England, Scotland and Wales) to Northern Ireland must be controlled, in particular due to EU regulations, this applies to products of animal and plant origin, although due to the introduced transitional periods these inspections have not actually started in full yet.
The EU has acknowledged that the Protocol creates difficulties for Northern Irish businesses and now wants to alleviate them with what it has called a “different model”. Szefczovicz said on Wednesday that he had listened to the opinions of the people of Northern Ireland and had established a dialogue with them. – Today’s proposals are a direct and sincere response to their concerns. We have put a lot of hard work into them to make tangible changes to them, he said, adding that he expected the British government to be “zealously and intensely engaged” in dialogue on them.
What is the EU proposing?
According to EU proposals, most food products will not have to be physically controlled when imported from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. There will be no control of chilled meat entering and remaining in the UK from the UK. The required administrative procedures for Northern Ireland importers would be reduced. The agreement on trusted traders would be extended, meaning that more products and companies would be duty free. The rules on medicines would be changed, allowing them to be freely imported from Great Britain into Northern Ireland. In addition, a mechanism would be created to allow Northern Irish politicians and communities to participate in overseeing the implementation of the protocol.
However, there would still be a possibility that some UK food products might be banned in Northern Ireland. The EU does not allow certain imported products, such as chilled meat, to enter its market. The new proposals foresee a product category “relevant to national identity”, including for example the sausages over which there was a dispute in June, but this leaves the possibility that some goods not in that category could be banned.
The proposals also do not address the issue of the ECJ’s supervision over the protocol and its role in resolving any disputes. The UK government argues that a tribunal that is part of the EU legal system cannot settle disputes in which the EU is a party, but should do so by independent arbitration. Bossczovicz argued, however, that during the talks he held in Northern Ireland, this matter was not mentioned as important. – I can say that in all the meetings that I have had, and I had a lot of interaction, exchange of views and discussions, the issue of the European Court of Justice was mentioned only once – he explained.
A British government spokesman said the government was now examining the details of the EU’s proposals and “would obviously look at them seriously and constructively.” He pointed out that the next step should be “intensive talks” about the proposals of both sides, “quickly conducted” to see if there is any common ground. “Significant changes that concern fundamental issues at the heart of the protocol, including governance, must be made if we are to agree a durable settlement that has support in Northern Ireland,” he added.
Main photo source: PA / PAP