After another tense week for the British Government and European Commission, Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič presented a new package of measures on the Northern Ireland Protocol on Wednesday.
The “bespoke arrangements” come in response to “the difficulties that people in Northern Ireland have been experiencing because of Brexit” and seek to further facilitate the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Speaking at the British Embassy in Lisbon earlier this week, Britain’s Brexit Minister, David Frost had said that he wanted an entirely “new protocol” and that failing to renegotiate one “would be a historic misjudgement” on the EU’s part.
The Commission outlined changes in the four areas of food safety and phytosanitary rules, medicines, governance and customs checks. In practice, the Commission envisages an 80% reduction in customs checks on goods arriving from Great Britain and an enhanced role for Northern Ireland stakeholders in the implementation of the Protocol.
The EU’s red line would be any digression from the supervision of the European Court of Justice, with many diplomats arguing that the EU is already going further than what Brussels has offered any other partner, and that the idea of accepting goods into the single market virtually unchecked was entirely unprecedented.
Some worry though that the British Government might still reject the concessions for ideological reasons rather than practical ones. The UK has said that they will look at the proposals seriously, but would still insist on “significant changes including governance.”
Frost, while arguing the U.K. would be justified in doing so, is yet to trigger Article 16, the clause included within the Protocol that allows either side to unilaterally override it. He said in the past though that “without an agreed solution soon, we will need to act, using the Article 16 safeguard mechanism.”
The Commission’s proposals were welcomed by the Irish Government, with Taoiseach Micheál Martin describing them as a “serious response to the challenges and concerns that have arisen”, while Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said they were “far-reaching proposals that comprehensively address the practical, genuine issues that matter most” to the people of Northern Ireland.
Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič said the new proposals “completely turned our rules upside down and inside out”, while EU diplomats have insisted this is the “last offer” that Brussels will make. The Commission has left the door open for discussion with British Government and a meeting is due to take place in Brussels today.
Compliments of Vulcan Consulting – a member of the EACCNY.