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Maros Sefovic

Customs checks on goods coming moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain could be reduced to just a few lorries a day, the European Commission’s vice-president has said.

Maros Sefcovic, who leads the bloc’s post-Brexit negotiations with the UK, said that the border could become “invisible” if the UK was able to supply real-time trade data to the EU.

Speaking to the FT, Sefcovic said: “if the data are downloaded into the system, when the goods are put on the ferry from Britain … I believe that we can remotely process them while sailing to Northern Ireland.”

‘Minimum checks’

Physical checks would only be required in a few instances where “there is reasonable suspicion of … illegal trade smuggling, illegal drugs or dangerous toys or poisoned food”, he added.

Sefcovic claimed that there is virtually no difference between the UK demand for “no checks” and the EU’s offer of “minimum checks, done in an invisible manner,” according to The Irish Times.

Sefcovic has also claimed that he could quickly resolve a dispute around a 25% EU duty levied on British steel sent to Northern Ireland.

Negotiated settlement

Under the Protocol arrangements agreed by the UK and EU as part of 2019’s Withdrawal Agreement negotiations, Northern Ireland effectively remains a part of the EU’s Single Market for goods to prevent the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Prime minister Liz Truss last week said she hopes that a negotiated settlement to the problems of implementing the protocol can be reached, but any solution must contain all policies within the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill that is currently working its way through Parliament.

The bill would allow the UK government to unilaterally amend or suspend parts of the protocol.

Grace periods

Currently there are grace periods in place putting some of the protocol’s rules on hold, but these are due to end on 15 September.

Truss is expected request a further extension to these easements.

UK-US relations

In his first call with Truss, US president Joe Biden talked about protecting the Good Friday Agreement and stressed the “importance of reaching a negotiated agreement with the European Union on the NI Protocol”.

According to the BBC, the outcome of the UK’s negotiations with the EU on the protocol will have a direct impact on its hopes of securing a bilateral trade deal with the US, at least in the minds of many Democrats.

The White House has said that any unilateral amendments to the protocol would “not be conducive to talks.”