Northern Ireland Protocol: EU rejects UK plan to overhaul GB:NI trade arrangements

Thu 22 Jul 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

The EU has swiftly rejected the UK proposal to renegotiate aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol included in a command paper published yesterday.

As reported in the IOE&IT’s daily news bulletin, the UK put forward a raft of proposals on how it thought the Protocol could be made to work more effectively.

However, European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic replied that the EU would “not agree to a renegotiation of the Protocol”.

The UK wishes to rewrite parts of the Protocol, including the articles that cover checks including customs documents, and enforcement of these arrangements.

Standstill

Sefcovic’s UK counterpart, Lord Frost, had earlier called for a “new balance” to the relationship between the EU and UK, suggesting a standstill period including a suspension of EU legal action and a continuation of grace periods on goods trade, including chilled meats.

The rejection from Sefcovic said the Protocol was already a bespoke arrangement “to address the unique challenges that Brexit, and the type of Brexit chosen by the British government, poses for the island of Ireland,” arguing that it was also necessary to preserve the EU single market.

The EU remained ready to “continue to seek creative solutions” to facilitate trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, which must abide by the rules of the EU single market.

'Wholesale renegotiation'

Policy experts told Politico that Britain’s latest requests, just weeks after the extension of the grace period on chilled meats, were its most drastic yet.

“We are looking at a much more wholesale renegotiation, of at least the trade parts of the Protocol, than I think even the Johnson government proposed back in 2019,” said Maddy Thimont Jack, associate director at the Institute for Government.

However, they come as Brussels is winding down for summer and therefore “barely registered” as many officials are already on holiday.

US interest

With grace periods on chilled meats due to expire at the end of September, there are only weeks to settle fundamental differences, according to the FT, which says that US President Joe Biden could be dragged back into the fray.

Biden believes that the Protocol, which was negotiated by the EU and the UK as part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, is critical to protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

US state department spokesman Ned Price said Washington wanted both sides “to negotiate within the existing mechanisms when differences do arise”.

Allies to Lord Frost insisted the new UK approach had been signalled to Washington and would “not be a problem” for the administration because the UK committed to negotiating a new settlement with Brussels in good faith.

Mixed signals

However, an opinion piece in the FT said that the decision to disown a deal Boris Johnson had described as “brilliant” signalled to the world that “Britain’s signature on international treaties is just about worthless”.

Philip Stevens says the UK has made an offer it knows the EU cannot accept, calculating that by drawing out the process, the government will make it impossible for the EU to insist on the original arrangements.