The European Commission has said the European Union will not agree to a renegotiation of the protocol on Northern Ireland, after Britain requested changes to its post-Brexit arrangements.
A deal to keep North Korea at large with the single market in order to avoid the border with the republic has required some checks between Britain and Northern Ireland, leading to corporate friction and angering some unionists.
Brexit Secretary David Frost told Westminster Parliament “we cannot go on as we are” on Wednesday and released a paper calling for “significant change” including a “hiatus period” to maintain existing grace periods and a freeze on legal action by the Commission.
Senior British government sources have acknowledged that this will require changes to the text of the protocol, which is part of the withdrawal agreement Westminster ratified last year.
Presenting the proposals in Parliament, Lord Frost said the protocol was causing “significant and continuing disruption to life and livelihoods” in Northern Ireland. But he stopped short of suspending parts of the agreement by invoking Article 16, saying now was not the time to do so.
“Instead, we see an opportunity to move forward differently, to find a new path and seek to agree with the EU, through negotiations, a new balance in our arrangements covering Northern Ireland, for the benefit of all,” he said.
These proposals will require a major change to the Northern Ireland protocol, and we are not shy about that. We believe this change is necessary to deal with the situation we are facing now. We look forward to urgently opening a discussion of these proposals.”
The leadership paper outlining the proposals calls for the removal of all customs formalities for goods transported from Great Britain to Northern Ireland unless it is expressly destined to cross the border into the EU single market. In the same way, sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) examinations and certifications will apply only to agri-food products that are clearly at risk of entering the EU single market.
Under the protocol, goods traded in Northern Ireland must comply with EU standards, but the British proposal would introduce a dual regulatory system so that products approved in Britain but not in the EU could also be traded there.
The protocol gives EU institutions, including the Court of Justice, the right to carry out some of their procedures, and Britain now wants to change that, introducing an international arbitration system instead.
These arrangements are highly unusual and did not support problem-solving in the context of a divided society – rather they increased rather than reduced tensions. It has also contributed to a false sense of separation between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in which trade arrangements operating within one part of the United Kingdom are ultimately overseen outside of it.”
In a statement, European Commission Vice President Maros Shevkovic indicated that the protocol was a “joint solution” reached with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Lord Frost, and that it had been ratified by the British Parliament.
Shevkovic said it was designed “to meet the unique challenges that Brexit, and the type of Brexit that the British government has chosen, for the island of Ireland have.” “Respect for international legal obligations is of paramount importance.”
He added that the European Union last month put in place a set of measures to facilitate the implementation of the protocol, including amendments to EU rules to ensure the long-term supply of medicines from Britain to Ireland.
“We take note of the statement made by Lord Frost today. We will continue to engage with the UK, as well as about the proposals made today,” Mr. Shevkovic said.
“We stand ready to continue to seek creative solutions, within the framework of the Protocol, for the benefit of all communities in Northern Ireland. However, we will not agree to a renegotiation of the Protocol.”
He added that the priority should be “stability and predictability in Northern Ireland” and that joint action by the joint bodies established by the Withdrawal Agreement “will be of paramount importance over the coming months”.
“I look forward to speaking to Lord Frost soon,” he said.
In Dublin, the government said it would study the UK’s proposals but stressed that any solutions to the difficulties identified by the British government “must be done within the framework of the protocol and the principles on which it is based”.
A statement from Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Dublin “will analyze this paper closely with our colleagues in the European Union”.
The protocol was jointly approved by the UK government and the European Union. They are jointly owned, Coveney said, and should be jointly executed.
We will continue to encourage the UK to work in partnership with the EU to identify realistic solutions in a spirit of positive and constructive engagement.
“The EU has consistently said that it stands ready to find flexible and practical approaches to address the difficulties that citizens of Northern Ireland face in relation to the implementation of the Protocol.”