EU urged to find Northern Ireland solution by O’Connor
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Britain wants to negotiate a “new protocol” to regulate post-Brexit trade with Northern Ireland. Lord David Frost delivered a scolding speech on Tuesday evening, and proposed a “new legal text” to replace the current protocol. He said he was sharing his document with the European Commission the night before Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission for Interinstitutional Relations, is set to deliver his own keynote speech.
Under the protocol, the UK agreed to leave some EU rules in place in Northern Ireland and accept checks on goods arriving from elsewhere in the UK.
But Westminster has since voiced concern and frustration over the arrangement, arguing that it does not work and needs to be changed.
Some reports suggest the EU is ready to offer the UK a new deal on Northern Ireland today, but is set to reject demands to strip European judges of their role in the province.
Yet, diplomats in Brussels have been unimpressed and frustrated by the UK’s fresh requests just two years after the deal was struck.
One diplomat this week told Politico that a “trade war” was not what the EU wanted with the UK.
They said: “Which is why we are striving for constructive solutions like the one Šefčovič will present.”
However, in a turn of tone, they warned: “If the UK refuses to go down this path, the EU will be prepared.”
Another diplomat argued that Lord Frost’s tone jarred, claiming it was “patronising” to send the message that the UK knows what’s best for the people of Northern Ireland given EU efforts to travel there and meet Northern Irish representatives and politicians.
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The EU says its presence and the current Protocol are beneficial to Northern Ireland, noting that the country stays in the single market.
Under the protocol, it was agreed that Northern Ireland would continue to follow EU rules on product standards.
This was intended to prevent checks along the border.
These checks would instead take place on goods entering Northern Ireland from England, Scotland or Wales — all now non-EU countries.
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Inspections now happen at Northern Irish ports, with customs documents required to be filled in.
But this process has drawn widespread criticism for having effectively created a border between Britain and Northern Ireland in the Irish Sea.
Things like milk and eggs need to be checked when entering Northern Ireland because of EU standards.
And some products such as chilled meats aren’t allowed to enter at all.
The agreement came into force on January 1, 2021 and is now part of international law.
Brussels has signalled it is willing to work with the UK this time round, however, offering some hope that the protocol may be revised.
An EU source told Politico that officials will travel to London on Thursday, but the UK has yet to confirm.
Lord Frost has long argued that the UK would be justified in triggering Article 16 — the clauses included within the protocol that allows either side to unilaterally override it.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen earlier this year triggered the article amid the EU’s vaccine war with Britain.
She later apologised for doing so, describing her action as a “mistake”.
Lord Frost has said he will be “ready to discuss” the EU’s ideas “whatever they say,” but warned there must be a “significant” change for the UK to accept them.
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