Gove's talks with European Commission vice-president 'lower the temperature' on NI Protocol

Fri 12 Feb 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

Following crunch talks in London yesterday (11 February), the UK and EU have agreed to work together to find “workable solutions” to ease tensions and trade friction in Northern Ireland.

This follows reports of delays and threats to border staff as a result of the introduction of the Northern Ireland Protocol at the start of the year.

The government released a joint statement with the EU following the meeting reiterating their full commitment to the Good Friday Agreement. 

New rules

Companies moving goods from Britain to Northern Ireland now need to complete customs declarations, with additional certification requirements for those moving products of animal origin.

However, the new rules have caused difficulties for companies that are used to moving goods freely within the UK before the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.

One-to-one

Michael Gove met with his European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic for discussions on how these delays and difficulties could be addressed.

According to Politico, discussions on potential solutions to the trade disruption in Northern Ireland will now “intensify” in a spirit of “collaboration, responsibility and pragmatism”.

The two spoke for three hours, often on a one-to-one basis,  and had a dinner of steak and potatoes ordered from Deliveroo, according to the FT.

Although there was no specific breakthrough in terms of easements or grace periods relaxing the implementation of the new rules, officials said the talks had served to “lower the temperature”.

Business input

The European Commission also agreed it will hear directly from businesses in Northern Ireland about their experiences dealing with the protocol.

Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, welcomed the decision.

“We need four key things to keep Northern Ireland’s business competitive,” he said. “Stability from lengthening the grace periods, certainty of long-term workable solutions, simplification of the systems and affordability of those solutions”.

The BBC reports that Gove and Sefcovic had “taken into account” the views expressed by both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland.

Firms back Protocol

Despite the disruption caused by the new rules so far, the Irish News reports that most NI manufacturers want the Protocol to work.

Research carried out by Manufacturing NI found that the majority of the 355 manufacturers responding were willing to work within the new rules, with around half confirming they were either on top of the issues or had experienced no impact at all.

Almost 60% reported similar or improved sales to GB in the past month, with just 10% saying sales to Britain had been significantly impacted under the protocol.

Stable

One month on from the implementation of the Protocol, Manufacturing NI said four-in-five firms are now in a “good, stable position”.

Problems remain with GB firms, however, with 53% of NI companies saying their GB suppliers were unprepared for the new requirements.