The UK will not invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol but has published a command paper outlining its plans to rewrite its rules.
However, the EU has already rejected the proposals with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic saying it will not “will not agree to a renegotiation of the Protocol”.
Under the Protocol, Great British businesses sending goods into Northern Ireland have been required to comply with new customs rules and processes since the start of the year.
It was agreed as part of the 2019 Withdrawal Agreement as a solution to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland following Brexit.
However, many businesses in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland have struggled to adapt to the new rules, leading to some shortages of certain goods and fears of further price hikes or product withdrawals for the region.
Traders of goods that are subject to sanitary and phytosanitary checks – including products of animal origin, plants and plant-based products – have been particularly affected.
This has included supermarkets, who wrote to the government earlier this week to voice their concerns.
Despite these challenges, the government’s online Trader Supporter Service portal – launched at the end of 2020 – has supported the completion of customs declarations for over 800,000 consignments into Northern Ireland from Great Britain so far this year.
Speaking to the House of Lords today (21 July), Frost said the situation could not go on as it has been and called on the EU to look at the deal with “fresh eyes”.
He said that there was a “growing sense in Northern Ireland that we have not found the right balance, seen in an ongoing febrile political climate, protests and regrettable instances of occasional disorder”.
Frost said that while the UK was within its rights to trigger Article 16, which allows either the UK or EU to suspend parts of the Protocol, now is “not the right moment”.
Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis also addressed the Commons about the command paper, according to the BBC.
The way forward
The UK has detailed its new approach in a 28-page command document called ‘The Way Forward’.
Current negotiations with the EU “have not got to the heart of the problem”, Frost said, and he has called for a temporary “standstill” period.
This would include the suspension of all legal action by the EU and the continuation of grace periods for the trade of goods including chilled meats.
RTE correspondent Sean Whelan tweeted that the UK government was effectively looking for a “transition period” to negotiate major changes to the Protocol.
Scrap EU institutions
The UK also wants to scrap the involvement of EU institutions and the European Court of Justice in the policing and governing of the Protocol, something that Brussels is unlikely to agree to.
Frost said the UK was “willing to explore exceptional arrangements around data sharing and cooperation” and “penalties in legislation to deter those looking to move non-compliant products from Northern Ireland to Ireland”.
Other proposals include an “honesty box” approach in which companies who say their goods are destined only for Northern Ireland are exempted from checks, reports the FT.
Britain also wants a dual-standards regime so that goods that conform to UK rules can circulate in Northern Ireland alongside EU-compliant products, so long as they are labelled as only for use in the region.
European Commission vice-president responded to the proposals saying Brussels would “continue to engage with the UK” on “creative solutions” to the difficulties posed by the Protocol.
However, he added that “the Protocol must be implemented. Respecting international legal obligations is of paramount importance”.
As the UK and EU remain at loggerheads over a solution, Marks and Spencer’s chairman Archie Norman called for a “common sense approach to enforcement”, reports the BBC.
The retailer, which employs 4,000 people in Northern Ireland, has already cut some Christmas goods from being sold in its Northern Irish stores and warned that consumers could face higher prices and further product withdrawals.
Norman told Radio 4’s Today programme that “pettifogging enforcement” of the rules required the retailer to employ 14 full-time vets to certify its products.
“Sandwiches typically require three veterinary certificates to get through,” he said.