Brexit: Sefcovic outlines reform plans for NI protocol
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The European Commission has laid out measures to slash 80 percent of regulatory checks and dramatically cut customs processes on the movement of goods, especially food and farming produce, between Britain and Northern Ireland, in its latest Brexit counter-proposals.
The UK Government welcomed the announcement on Wednesday night, signalling that it wanted “intensive talks” to follow the EU’s proposals, designed to tackle disruption caused by the Northern Ireland protocol.
But across the bloc EU customs authorities are worried the new measures allowing unchecked goods to cross borders could attract smugglers.
One EU diplomat told Politico: “We are getting pushback from our customs authorities, really.
“They believe this is too high of a risk.”
Many EU officials claim Brussels has gone way beyond what it has ever offered a third country when it comes to allowing goods entering the single market.
By his own admission, EU Commissioner Maros Sefcovic, who presented the plans on Wednesday, said it was the first time the EU has “delegated the control of our external borders” to a third country.
The EU plan includes a 50 percent reduction in customs paperwork required to move products into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
The EU is now reportedly “preparing for the worst” from the UK in response to its proposals and fear Boris Johnson will reject the plan, according to The Guardian and The Independent newspapers.
“The EU have now published their proposals in response to those in our Command Paper,” a UK Government spokesperson said.
“We are studying the detail and will of course look at them seriously and constructively.
“The next step should be intensive talks on both our sets of proposals, rapidly conducted, to determine whether there is common ground to find a solution.
“Significant changes which tackle the fundamental issues at the heart of the protocol, including governance, must be made if we are to agree a durable settlement which commands support in Northern Ireland.”
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The scaled-back checking regime proposed by the EU would also remove the prospect of certain British produce, including Cumberland sausages, being banned from export to the region.
In return, the trading bloc has asked for safeguards to be implemented to provide extra assurances that products said to be destined for Northern Ireland do not end up crossing the Irish border.
Those include labelling of certain products, making clear they are for sale in the UK only, and enhanced monitoring of supply chain movements and access to real time trade flow information.
Sefcovic said the bloc had put in a lot of hard work to come up with an “alternative model” for implementing the protocol.
“We have explored every possible angle of the protocol and, at times, went beyond current EU law,” he told a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday.
He added: “With this robust package of practical, imaginative solutions we can continue to implement the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland for the benefit of all communities on the ground.
“It not only cements stability and predictability, an indispensable ingredient for the local economy to flourish, but also paves the way for enhanced opportunities.”
While the range of measures would go some way to reducing everyday friction on trade caused by the protocol, they do not address the UK demand over the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
UK Brexit minister Lord Froord Frost has made clear the removal of the court’s oversight function in policing the protocol is a red line for the Government if a compromise deal is to be struck.
Under the terms of the protocol, which was agreed by the UK and EU as part of the 2020 Withdrawal Agreement, the ECJ would be the final arbitrator in any future trade dispute between the two parties on the operation of the protocol.
The UK now wants to remove that provision and replace it with an independent arbitration process.
The European Commission has insisted it will not move on the ECJ issue.
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