Brexit: Sefcovic outlines reform plans for NI protocol
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The EU Commissioner issued a statement at the end of today’s talks with the UK Brexit minister claiming the package of measures proposed by Brussels three weeks ago will remain unchanged from the bloc’s side.
Lamenting the UK for not coming to the negotiating table with acceptable proposals, Mr Sefcovic said: “We have spared no effort in preparing this package and bringing it across the finishing line. Our package, as a whole, will provide significant changes for operators on the ground.
“In practice, our proposal would create a type of ‘Express lane’.
“Customs-related red tape would be cut in half. A significant range of retail goods would also benefit from simplified certification. This would result in a reduction of up to 80 percent of SPS checks.
“It is a whole new model for how goods can be moved from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. It would result in strengthened opportunities for the people of Northern Ireland.
“This was a big move by us. But until today, we have seen no move at all from the UK side. I find this disappointing and once again, I urge the UK government to engage with us sincerely.
“From this perspective, I see next week as an important one. We should focus all efforts on reaching a solution as soon as possible. Our aim should be to establish stability and predictability for Northern Ireland.
“We hear a lot about Article 16 at the moment. Let there be no doubt that triggering Article 16 – to seek the renegotiation of the Protocol – would have serious consequences.
Serious for Northern Ireland, as it would lead to instability and unpredictability.
“And serious also for EU-UK relations in general, as it would mean a rejection of EU efforts to find a consensual solution to the implementation of the protocol.”
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Downing Street also said that progress on negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol has been “limited” following the meeting.
The Number 10 spokesperson added that Lord Frost said the EU’s proposals “did not currently deal effectively with the fundamental difficulties in the way the protocol was operating” but gaps between they UK and EU “could still be bridged through further intensive discussions”.
Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic will meet again in London next week and officials will continue discussions during the week.
Lord Frost’s meeting with the European Commission vice-president, Maros Sefcovic, comes as the UK and European Union are still at loggerheads over the future of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
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Speaking to reporters ahead of the meeting, Lord Frost said: “The gap between us is still quite significant but let’s see where we can get to.”
To avoid a hard border with Ireland, the protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market for goods, resulting in some checks for products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain, which left the single market.
Lord Frost said he would not immediately trigger Article 16, which would allow parts of the deal to be suspended.
He said: “We’re not going to trigger Article 16 today, but Article 16 is very much on the table and has been since July.
“If we can reach an agreement on the protocol that provides a sustainable solution, then that’s the best way forward.”
He has previously claimed the conditions for using the mechanism have been met because of the difficulties being caused.
No 10 added there is no set timescale on how long talks with the EU can continue.
Senior EU figures are hopeful that the use of Article 16 of the protocol can be avoided.
Lord Frost declined to say how long the negotiations would continue.
“I’m not going to give any timescales or any hypotheticals, we are trying to reach agreement and we’re working very hard and we’re going to carry on trying.”
The Brexit minister has previously said he expects the issues around the protocol to be settled “one way or another” this autumn.
The UK also wants an end to the European Court of Justice’s oversight role, something that Brussels has said is impossible.
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