Sefcovic repeats warning over UK's planned NI Protocol bill but says EU is preparing solutions

Thu 19 May 2022
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

brexit talks

Brussels has sent a warning shot to the UK government by saying it is ready to take retaliatory action if London continues with its plans to create legislation that will override the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking to the FT, EU Brexit negotiator Maroš Šefčovič said it would be “unacceptable for us” if the UK attempts to rewrite elements of an international agreement that was less than two years old. 

Solutions

In a more conciliatory mood, he added that while he was not prepared to renegotiate the Protocol, he gave assurances that the European Commission would still look at turning previous ideas about how to reduce trade frictions into legal text.

These ideas were initially published last October and included creating “red and green channels”, where goods that were clearly destined to remain inside Northern Ireland only needed a single customs form.

This is very similar to the idea suggested by Liz Truss earlier this week of having a green lane for trusted partners transporting good only to NI and a red lane for goods going to the EU.

Collision course

However, according to The Telegraph, the EU's olive branch is unlikely to deflect the UK government from progressing with the new legislation.

It reports that Ms Truss has pledged to table the legislation “in the coming weeks” and said it was in response to the “very grave and serious situation” in Northern Ireland.

It added that any new Bill would contain an “explicit” override clause meaning it can be immediately replaced if an agreement is reached with the Commission.

‘Political soup’

Pascal Lamy, the former head of the World Trade Organisation, described the UK’s current strategy as akin to cooking “a political soup.”

Speaking to The Guardian he said: “These are oil and vinegar issues between emotion and technicalities. Emotion is extremely high because Boris Johnson keeps beating the drum to say Brexit is a great thing.”

“The UK is torn between its political position, which is wanting to have the capacity to diverge [on standards], and the technical consequence of that, which is a thicker border,” he added.

Last resort

Previously, the EU has discussed scrapping the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement should the UK ditch the Protocol.

According to the FT, this would introduce tariffs on all UK goods exports to the single market, and “remains a last-resort option for Brussels.”