Northern Ireland Protocol latest: UK drops key demand to keep negotiations momentum with EU

Mon 13 Dec 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

The UK has dropped demands that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) does not have a role in policing the Northern Ireland Protocol as it seeks to find a solution to the dispute before Christmas.

The “important shift” sees the government side-line the issue of the ECJ to focus on securing a smooth flow of goods between GB and NI.

According to the FT, journalists were briefed on the change on Friday (10 December) when Brexit minister Lord Frost and European Commission negotiator Maros Sefcovic met virtually to assess progress on negotiations.

“If the negotiations fail it won’t be because the UK is insisting on taking the ECJ out of the protocol,” an official said.

Practical focus

The Irish Times reports that British negotiators are no longer insisting on solving the governance issues and will focus on practical problems, such as access to medicines and the burden of customs and regulatory checks on other goods.

As previously covered in the IOE&IT Daily Update, the European Commission has offered to reduce many of the customs and health checks on trade, as well as safeguarding the supply of medicines to Northern Ireland.

British negotiators say that proposals to reduce checks on goods movements do not go far enough.

‘Crunch time’

Following his meeting with Lord Frost, Maros Sefcovic tweeted that it was “crunch time for medicines”.

Lord Frost tweeted that limited progress on medicines had been made but there was no agreement following the Friday meeting.

“I underlined the need for movement on all the difficult issues created by the protocol, including customs, agri-food rules, subsidy policy, VA/excise, and governance including the Court of Justice,” he said. “We will not find a durable solution that does not deal with all these problems.”

Negotiators will speak again on Wednesday and Friday. The Newsletter reports that Frost said he hopes for “worthwhile progress towards agreed solutions before Christmas”.

Protocol poll

A majority of NI voters (88%) believe Brexit has contributed to shortages of food and other goods in NI shops, according to a new survey from Lord Ashcroft Polls.

The Ulster and the Union: the view from the North report published today includes a survey of more than 3,000 Northern Ireland voters together with focus groups throughout the province.

Unionists are more likely to blame the NI Protocol: 78% of them said the protocol had been a major factor in shortages, compared to 38% who said the same of Brexit in general.

One third (33%) – including 66% of Unionists – said the NI Protocol was wrong in principle and should be scrapped. A further 9% said it is currently too much of a burden and needs serious reform, while 36% (including 67% of 2017 Alliance voters) said it would be acceptable with some adjustments.

Fishing agreement

In the wider sphere of EU-UK trade relations, a degree of peace has broken out over fishing, with Paris, London and Brussels dropping talk of a trade war reports the Guardian.

The European Commission and the French government signalled satisfaction after the UK and Channel Islands governments agreed to issue 83 more operating licences before an EU deadline.

According to Reuters, Britain issued 18 licences for EU replacement vessels in UK territorial waters and five licences for EU vessels to access Jersey waters.

France said it recognised that 1,034 or 93% of French licence requests had now been secured.

However, French fishermen have said they are not satisfied still intend to blockade British goods at Calais on 23 December.