The European Commission confirmed this week that it would freeze two lawsuits against the United Kingdom in order to “continue constructive discussions” with Westminster over trade arrangements in Northern Ireland.
A Commission spokesperson said in a statement that “in order to provide the necessary space to reflect on these issues and find durable solutions to the implementation of the Protocol, we have decided, at this stage, not to move to the next stage of the infringement procedure”.
The proceedings were launched in March after the British Government decided to unilaterally delay the introduction of a number of provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol, part of the Withdrawal Agreement which Prime Minister Boris Johnson heralded as a “fantastic moment” at the time of signature in 2019.
Last week however, he said the Protocol was “unsustainable” as the British Government called for a “standstill period” whereby the EU would not take further legal action and the UK would stop taking unilateral actions.
In February the UK Government committed publicly to the proper implementation of the Protocol before reneging on that promise in March, postponing the implementation of rules around the movement of goods and pets from Great Britain to Northern Ireland without any consultation with the EU.
At the time, the EU claimed the move “set the UK on a path of a deliberate breach of its international legal obligations and the duty of good faith that should prevail in the application of international agreements pursuant to Article 26 of the Vienne Convention on the Law of Treaties”.
A Command Paper – Northern Ireland Protocol: The Way Forward – published by the British Government last week suggested a tiered system in which goods produced for consumption in Northern Ireland would not need to be inspected at Irish Sea crossing points, and proposed that goods made to standards that equalled those of the EU should be able to circulate freely.
Other suggested measures include abolishing export certification, state aid rules and the oversight of the European Court of Justice, which are likely to be opposed by a number of Member States. While the Commission has said it will give due consideration to the proposals, it has insisted that the Protocol will not be renegotiated.
“While the EU will not renegotiate the Protocol, we stand ready to address all the issues arising in the practical implementation of the Protocol in a spirit of good faith and cooperation.” The Commission will now take the time to consider the UK’s proposals in more detail.
Compliments of Vulcan Consulting – a member of the EACCNY