UK demands 'significant changes' to Northern Ireland protocol from EU

UK demands 'significant changes' to Northern Ireland protocol from EU

‘We cannot go on as we are’: Britain tells the EU it needs ‘significant changes’ to the Northern Ireland protocol including removal of European Court of Justice as its arbiter – but backs down from taking unilateral action over imports crisis

  • UK is unveiling proposals to overhaul the Northern Ireland Brexit divorce terms
  • Lord Frost wants most good exempted from checks between NI and mainland UK
  • M&S warns it is already cutting Christmas range over fears of export problems 

Britain demanded the EU agree to ‘significant changes’ to Brexit rules stifling goods imports to Northern Ireland today – but stopped short of taking unilateral action to upset Brussels.

Brexit minister Lord Frost said the burdens imposed by the Northern Ireland Protocol ‘have been a source of considerable and ongoing disruption to lives and livelihoods’ in the province.

But in a statement jointly made by the peer in the House of Lords and Cabinet minister Brandon Lewis in the Commons, he said that the UK would not unilaterally invoke powers to lift the rules affecting imports like sausages and other chilled meats.

He had previously said ‘all options’ could be used, but instead he offered negotiations on ‘a new path’ with Brussels – which is insisting that the current rules must be followed.

The UK issued a command paper on a new way to break the deadlock today. London is seeking a ‘standstill period’ where existing grace periods on Northern Ireland are maintained. It is also demanding the removal of the European Court of Justice as arbiter of the rules agreed in 2019.

Lord Frost urged Brussels to look at his new plans for Northern Ireland with ‘fresh eyes’, telling peers: ‘These proposals will require a significant change to the Northern Ireland Protocol, we do not shy away from that. 

‘We believe such change is necessary to deal with the situation we now face. We look to open a discussion on these proposals urgently.’

It came as high street food and clothing retailer Marks & Spencer warned today that it is already slashing Christmas ranges for Northern Ireland due to ‘pettifogging’ enforcement of Brexit rules. 

Brexit minister Lord Frost said the burdens imposed by the Northern Ireland Protocol ‘have been a source of considerable and ongoing disruption to lives and livelihoods’ in the province.

Northern Ireland Secretary Mr Lewis, making a statement to MPs at the same time as Lord Frost, said: ‘The difficulties we have in operating the Northern Ireland Protocol are now the main obstacle to building a relationship with the EU that reflects our strong common interests and values’

Boris slams EU’s ‘inflexible’ insistence on sticking to treaty

Boris Johnson lashed out at the EU over its ‘inflexible’ attitude towards Northern Ireland today. 

In a forward to the command paper released this afternoon he said that the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol ‘has been profound economically, politically, socially, and commercially’.

However he said he decided to stop short of taking unilateral action to lift checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea. 

‘It is increasingly clear that we cannot solve the problems simply by a rigid and unpurposive application of the Protocol in its current form,’ he wrote.

‘Indeed the difficulties are so profound that I have had to consider whether safeguarding action is necessary under the Article 16 framework which the Protocol provides. 

‘My conclusion is that the circumstances in which we find ourselves would justify such an approach. 

‘But I also conclude that there is still an opportunity to proceed differently and to agree with the EU a new balance in how the Protocol operates because I believe that there is still political will to address shared problems on all sides.’

Lord Frost said it was ‘clear that the circumstances exist to justify the use of Article 16’ of the Protocol.

‘Nevertheless, we have concluded that it is not the right moment to do so,’ he said.

The Northern Ireland Protocol aims at avoiding a hard border on the island by effectively keeping the province in the EU’s single market for goods.

Tension has mounted over trade arrangements for Northern Ireland, particularly for chilled meats, because the province’s open border with EU member Ireland is Britain’s only land frontier with the EU and its vast single market. 

But Unionists have complained the terms are splitting Northern Ireland from Great Britain and hitting the pockets of businesses. 

Last month Boris Johnson unilaterally extended a grace period covering checks on goods, due to expire at the end of June, for three more months. 

Northern Ireland Secretary Mr Lewis, making a statement to MPs at the same time as Lord Frost, said: ‘The difficulties we have in operating the Northern Ireland Protocol are now the main obstacle to building a relationship with the EU that reflects our strong common interests and values.

‘Instead of that we’re seeing a relationship that is being punctuated with legal challenges and characterised by disagreement and mistrust.

‘We do not want that pattern to be set, not least of all because it does not support stability in Northern Ireland.

‘It’s now the time to work to establish a new balance, which both the UK and EU can invest in, to provide a platform for peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and allow us to set out on a new path of partnership with the EU.

‘We are today setting out an approach that we believe can do just that.

‘We urge the EU to look at it with fresh eyes and work with us to seize this opportunity and put our relations on a better footing. We stand ready to deliver the brighter future that is within reach.’

New DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson described the Government’s announcement on the Northern Ireland Protocol as a ‘significant step’. 

‘Sticking plasters and short-term fixes were never going to work. We need a proper renegotiation,’ he said.

‘The Prime Minister must continue at pace to remove the Irish Sea Border, which is fracturing the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.

‘The rigid refusal by Brussels to even consider renegotiation of the Protocol is symptomatic of how we reached this point.

‘The EU has failed to recognise the concerns of unionists and has shown zero respect for the consensus approach which has helped secure peace and stability in Northern Ireland.’

But Labour’s Baroness Chapman told Lord Frost: ‘This is not the first time the Noble Lord the Minister has appeared before this House to discredit his own deal.

‘I regret that this approach has potentially dire consequences for communities in Northern Ireland and also, critically, for our international reputation, at a time when we are seeking to forge new agreements.

‘The erosion of trust in the UK Government – an essential component of stability in Northern Ireland – is deeply regrettable and must not be taken lightly. The Noble Lord the Minister’s statement is an admission of failure.

‘The Government promised to Get Brexit Done. And yet here it is trying to unpick it.’


Lord Frost (right) has been trying to thrash out the issues with EU vice-president Maros Sefcovic (left)

The boss of M&S earlier gave an extraordinary account of the obstacles facing exporter as Lord Frost prepared to lay out proposals for ending the bitter standoff over the divorce terms. 

M&S chairman Archie Norman said its festive products for Northern Ireland were already being ‘delisted’ and shoppers could face higher prices. He said he feared that when grace periods come to an end there will be similar issues to those seen exports goods to Ireland, where whole shipments have been lost due to documents being filled out in the wrong colour pen.   

Boris Johnson urged Dublin counterpart Micheal Martin to show ‘pragmatism’ in a phone call last night. 

But Ireland’s European affairs minister Thomas Byrne insisted this morning that any solution must be within the confines of the existing protocol, saying Brexit was the source of the problems not enforcement.

M&S chairman Archie Norman said its festive products for Northern Ireland were already being ‘delisted’, warning there could be ‘gaps on the shelves’. Stores in Belfast have experienced disruption to supplies this year (pictured)

Archie Norman said he feared that when grace periods come to an end there will be similar issues to those seen exports goods to Ireland, where whole shipments have been lost due to documents being filled out in the wrong colour pen

Archie Norman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there will be ‘gaps on the shelves’ unless things change.

‘This Christmas, I can tell you already, we’re having to make decisions to delist product for Northern Ireland because it’s simply not worth the risk of trying to get it through,’ the former Tory MP said.

‘We’ve already made that decision. We’re waiting to see how serious it’s going to be but if it’s anything like southern Ireland (the Republic of Ireland), and at the moment it’s set to be, then it’s going to be very, very serious for customers.’

He called for a ‘common sense approach to enforcement focused on the ends, which is protecting consumers, not the bureaucratic means’. 

Mr Norman said M&S had been forced to give up exporting half its sandwich range to Ireland. 

‘Sandwiches typically require three veterinary certificates to get through,’ he said.

He said the system was paper-based and subject to massive delays that often meant whole shipments were lost.

‘If one page is blue instead of black typeface, the entire wagon is turned away,’ he added.

If the regime is the same for Northern Ireland from the end of September it will be ‘incendiary’ for the public there, he said.

Lord Frost previously told Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee that the only way to make the Protocol work is to ‘hugely reduce or eliminate the barriers’ that have effectively created a border down the Irish Sea since it came into force in January.

There are reports he will push for an ‘honesty box’ approach to allow companies in Great Britain that declare their goods are only destined for sale and use in Northern Ireland to skip border checks.

The US has been ramping up the pressure for a resolution, with former Secretary of State John Kerry – now Joe Biden’s climate envoy – pointing out the President is ‘deeply committed’ to keeping the peace on the island of Ireland.

‘There’s a constant concern,’ he said.

‘My principal concern is now climate and it’s not my portfolio but, suffice to say, President Biden is deeply immersed in the issue. He’s been dealing with it for years on the foreign relations committee.

‘Secretary of State Tony Blinken is as knowledgeable and has worked with the president on this for years and they’re both deeply committed in making certain that the agreement holds and there is peace ultimately.’

The US State Department also insisted the UK must stay ‘within the existing mechanisms’. ‘We encourage them to negotiate within the existing mechanisms when differences do arise,’ a spokesman said. 

Shadow Brexit minister Baroness Chapman accused Lord Frost of engaging in more ‘brinkmanship’. ‘The PM negotiated this deal just months ago and yet today communities and businesses in Northern Ireland are being subjected to another round of brinkmanship,’ she said.

‘The Government and the EU must urgently find a sustainable way forward to reassure everyone affected by this political stalemate.’ 

The Protocol was negotiated as part of Britain’s divorce from Brussels to avoid a hard border with Ireland, by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.

But the introduction of checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea has angered Unionists, who have protested against it in recent months, arguing the Brexit terms have weakened Northern Ireland’s links with the rest of the UK.

The UK Government has also said the checks and added red tape have caused trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to decline.

Separately, US State department spokesman Ned Price told reporters it would be ‘watching’ events in the UK.

He added: ‘As we’ve consistently said over time, we do support a close relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and we encourage them to negotiate within the existing mechanisms when differences do arise.

‘We’ve consistently said that we welcome the provisions in both the trade and cooperation agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol between the UK and the European Union, which, importantly, help to protect the gains of the Belfast and Good Friday Agreement.’

During a conversation with the Irish Taoiseach, the Prime Minister reminded his counterpart that the Protocol needed to protect the peace in Northern Ireland in ‘all its dimensions’ – a reference to the need for it to satisfy both Nationalists and Unionists.

Following the phone call on Tuesday, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: ‘The Prime Minister emphasised that the way the Protocol is currently operating is causing significant disruption for the people in Northern Ireland.

‘He made clear the UK Government’s commitment to protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions.

‘He said the EU must show pragmatism and solutions needed to be found to address the serious challenges that have arisen with the Protocol.

 Mr Sefvovic (left) and Mr Frost (right) have been holding a series of meetings as they try to find a way through the crisis

‘The Prime Minister said that the UK Government would outline its approach on the Northern Ireland Protocol to Parliament tomorrow.’

The Taoiseach told Mr Johnson that the proposals set to be announced in Westminster would be ‘carefully considered’, according to the Irish Government.

Mr Martin also stressed that there was already a EU-UK framework for dealing with issues related to the Protocol.

The men had been due to meet in person in the UK, until Mr Johnson was told to self-isolate after coming into close contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for coronavirus at the weekend.

Lord Frost – who negotiated the UK’s split from the EU – told MPs on Monday that the UK Government was ‘keeping all options on the table’ to resolve issues with the Protocol, including triggering Article 16, which would allow the unilateral overruling of the agreement.

The FT said Lord Frost, whose statement will be read to the Commons by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, is preparing to tell the EU that the UK is within its rights to activate Article 16 due to the disruption the Protocol is causing.

Source: Read Full Article