Northern Ireland Protocol and Article 16 talks latest: possible fix for most contentious issue

Fri 19 Nov 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

A compromise over the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Northern Irish trade could be within reach in the NI Protocol talks.

British officials say there is “potential” for a fix over the contentious issue and EU sources say that a “fudge” could yet be found by making the ECJ the court of last resort.

The Telegraph reports that under the compromise, the ECJ would oversee questions of EU law in NI in almost all cases involving Single Market rules – except if Brussels took the UK to the court for failing to implement EU law in NI.

‘Free trade deal is conditional on NIP’

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic today warned the UK that its free trade deal with the trade bloc was conditional on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, which includes the NI Protocol.

Speaking in Dublin this morning, Sefcovic said the two agreements are "intrinsically linked" and one "cannot exist without the other".

RTE reports Sefcovic acknowledging that there had been "unintended consequences" from the application of the protocol in NI.

He said he hoped the UK’s recent “change of tone” was matched by action, reports Reuters. “Right now we need the UK government to reciprocate the significant move the EU has made,” he told the Dublin conference.

‘Knuckle down’

Sefcovic is currently meeting with Brexit minister Lord Frost in Brussels today, with Ireland’s Taoiseach (prime minister) Micheál Martin saying the UK and EU need to “knuckle down” and resolve the dispute, the Guardian reports.

Negotiations on the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement deal last year went on until 24 December and Martin said: “Don’t leave it to Christmas Eve this year.”

According to the BBC, a solution to the protocol may be withing reach as Martin said the “mood music had changed”, urging Boris Johnson to not “let the perfect be the enemy of the good”.

Beyond Christmas?

However, BBC correspondent Laura Kuenssberg said talks could stretch beyond Christmas as the two sides remain fundamentally at odds and “if there isn’t a budge, then there will be a bigger bust up”.

The EU has set out proposals that it says would lead to an 80% reduction in checks on food products arriving in NI, as well as halving the amount of paperwork involved.

Easements on the movement of medicines and chilled meat products are also on the table. However, Lord Frost wants more widespread changes including getting rid of customs checks and relying on businesses to be honest about what they are doing.

'Air of exhaustion'

The FT claims the PM may be amenable to a deal as he was “psychologically scarred” by last Christmas’s lockdown and wants to avoid a trade war with the EU by changing tone.

“There’s enough going on,” one adviser said.

The “air of exhaustion” described by one diplomat is having an effect on other areas of UK-EU relations, with trust “so low”.

A memorandum of understanding on financial regulatory co-operation has remained unsigned all year. The UK has also failed to gain entrance to the new Horizon Europe research and innovation programme.

A deeper and more stable arrangement with the EU on data transfers also remains a distant prospect, says the FT.