Brexit: EU prepared to drop most checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain

13 October 2021, 00:24 | Updated: 13 October 2021, 09:43

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic will outline the proposals today
European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic will outline the proposals today. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

The EU will later outline a range of proposals to resolve the political stand-off over Brexit's Northern Ireland Protocol, with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic promising the measures will be "far-reaching" and address issues relating to the movement of food and medicines across the Irish Sea.

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The EU will offer to remove up to 50 per cent of customs checks on British goods entering Northern Ireland, according to The Telegraph, and more than half the checks on meat and plants entering Northern Ireland could be ditched.

The paper reports the removal of checks will be in return for "having more data to do proper market surveillance".

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Mr Sefcovic has also pledged to offer more of a voice for politicians and civic society in Northern Ireland on how the contentious trading arrangements operate.

However, while the measures could help reduce everyday friction on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, they are unlikely to satisfy a UK Government demand over the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

UK Brexit negotiator Lord Frost made it clear on Tuesday that the removal of the ECJ's oversight function in relation to the protocol was a red line for the Government.

Under the terms of the deal struck by the UK and EU in 2019, 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.

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However Mr Sefcovic has insisted that the EU will not budge on the ECJ issue, and pointed out that Northern Ireland would be unable to retain single market access - a key provision of the protocol - if the arrangement was not subject to oversight by European judges.

It is anticipated that the EU proposals, along with a wish list of reforms outlined by the Government in July, will form the basis of a new round of negotiations between Brussels and London in the coming weeks.

The protocol was agreed by the UK and EU as a way to sidestep the major obstacle in the Brexit divorce talks - the Irish land border.

It achieved that by shifting regulatory and customs checks and processes to the Irish Sea.

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The arrangements have created new economic barriers on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

This has caused disruption to many businesses in Northern Ireland and also created a major political headache for the Government, as unionists are furious at what they perceive as a weakening of the Union.

However, other businesses have benefited from the terms of the protocol, which provides Northern Ireland traders unique unfettered access to sell within the UK internal market and EU single market.

One way the EU could potentially reduce red tape on the movement of agri-food goods between GB and NI would be to sanction a system that only applied checks to shipments at risk of onward movement into the Irish Republic.

Under such a system, a trusted trade scheme could allow retailers to declare that the final destination for goods being shipped from Great Britain was Northern Ireland.

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Mr Sefcovic has already signalled that the EU is willing to change legislation to ensure no disruption of medical supplies into Northern Ireland.

Under the original terms of the protocol, the region was to fall within the EU regulatory zone for medicines from 2022 - a move that would have restricted the ability to import products from Great Britain.

But Mr Sefcovic has indicated that movement on ECJ oversight of the protocol should not be expected when he outlines the proposals later on Wednesday.

Addressing a virtual event in Dublin last week, he said: "If we are talking about the constructive solutions to the practical problems, I think that doing away with the European Court of Justice is not one of them."