The European Commission has said it “will not agree to a renegotiation” of the Northern Ireland Protocol after the UK government demanded “significant changes”.
European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said the bloc was “ready to continue to seek creative solutions under the protocol” but would not reopen negotiations of the whole mechanism.
His comments came as Brexit Minister Lord Frost said the UK and the EU “cannot continue as we do” with the current provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Lord Frost has unveiled proposals from the British government which he says will bring a “new balance” to the protocol as the UK seeks to revise the post-war period.Brexit trade agreements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to ensure the smooth movement of goods.
Lord Frost said he would ensure that “goods move much more freely through UK customs territory while ensuring that full processes are applied to goods destined for the EU”.
According to government command paper, the plan includes:
- Return to a normal conventional framework similar to all other international agreements
- Explore “exceptional arrangements” around data sharing and cooperation
- Introduce penalties to deter people seeking to move non-compliant products from Northern Ireland to Ireland
- Streamline trade and avoid checks at ports and airports in Northern Ireland
- Agree on a standstill period including the suspension of all legal action by the EU and the application of grace periods to allow continued trade in goods such as chilled meats, including sausages
- Ensuring that UK-EU relations are ultimately not controlled by EU institutions, including the European Court of Justice
the North Ireland The protocol avoids checks at Ireland’s internal border.
Speaking on Wednesday, Lord Frost admitted that the burdens imposed by the mechanism “have been a source of considerable and continuing disruption to lives and livelihoods”.
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However, the Brexit minister failed to fully tear up the document or to call for the triggering of the Article 16 provision – which allows the UK or the EU to suspend part of the arrangements under circumstances. extremes.
Lord Frost said “it is clear that the circumstances exist to justify the use of Article 16” but that “now is not the right time to do it”.
He added: “Instead, we see an opportunity to do things differently, to find a new path, to seek to agree with the EU through negotiations of a new balance in our arrangements covering Ireland from North for the benefit of all. “
And Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis urged the EU to carefully consider the UK government’s renewed proposals.
Making a statement simultaneously in the House of Commons, Mr Lewis said: “Now is the time to work to strike a new balance, in which the UK and the EU can invest, to provide a platform for the peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and enable us to embark on a new path of partnership with the EU.
“Today we are defining an approach that we believe can do just that.
“We urge the EU to look at it with a fresh eye and work with us to seize this opportunity and put our relations on a better footing. We are ready to deliver a better future that is within our grasp.”
But the EU said renegotiation was not on the table.
“We take note of the statement made by Lord Frost today,” Sefcovic said.
“We will continue to engage with the UK, also on the suggestions made today. We stand ready to continue to seek creative solutions, within the framework of the Protocol, for the benefit of all communities in Ireland. North. However, we will not agree to a renegotiation of the protocol. “
Irish Minister for European Affairs Thomas Bryne agreed, adding: “We don’t want to renegotiate the protocol, it is there. But in the protocol there are creative ways of doing things.”
And SDLP chief Colum Eastwood accused the government of “shamelessly ignoring” its international treaty obligations.
Meanwhile, Labor Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Louise Haigh accused the government of “more political harassment”.
But others were more positive about the UK government’s announcement, with DUP chief Sir Jeffrey Donaldson describing it as an “important step”, adding that a “proper renegotiation” of the protocol was needed.
“The Prime Minister must continue at a sustained pace to remove the Irish maritime border, which breaks the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom,” Sir Jeffrey told the House of Commons.
Angela McGowan, CBI Northern Ireland Director, said “companies are enraged that the protocol continues to make headlines with no end in sight”.
She added that “solutions urgently need to be agreed to unlock investment and give Northern Ireland businesses and households the certainty they need and deserve.”
Analysis, David Blevins, Ireland correspondent
During a visit to Belfast in 2019, Boris Johnson said there was “no question” of screening goods crossing Britain into Northern Ireland.
But he had already agreed to checks a month earlier when he and his then Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar were negotiating the Northern Ireland protocol.
Fast forward 18 months and the UK government effectively admits that the controls were necessary by taking unilateral action to abandon most of them.
If there is no effective border with the Irish Sea, how will the EU protect its single market without resurrecting the controversial prospect of a land border?
They said it would be easy to avoid a hard border, but five years after the UK voted for Brexit there is still no solution.
The more the EU and the UK focus on Northern Ireland, the more destabilizing it is for the relations at the heart of the peace process.