Brexit Minister “to announce major changes to protocol”
The government is set to warn EU leaders that it will stray from the terms of the Brexit deal unless it gets more flexibility on trade deals with Ireland from North.
Retirement Minister Lord Frost is reportedly preparing to announce a significant change to the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, according to the Reuters news agency. Tomorrow’s announcement could further jeopardize strained UK-EU relations.
Irish officials say they are aware Lord Frost will unveil a Brexit update called the ‘order document’ tomorrow, and that will cover a range of fundamental issues. These include animal, plant and food controls, customs and VAT provisions, the treatment of manufactured goods, Northern Ireland’s trade with Great Britain, state aid rules and an expected criticism of the EU’s position.
Reuters cited sources in Brussels and London as saying the Brexit minister should threaten to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which allows either party to take unilateral action if application of the protocol “results in serious economic, societal or environmental hardship that may persist.” The threat would increase tensions between the parties as efforts are made to use extended grace periods due to end in October to find more compromises. Attitudes are hardening in Brussels and in the main capitals of the EU, to the idea that London concluded this agreement at the end of last year and that it now has the status of an international treaty which must be honored.
DUP chief Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said yesterday it was time for EU leaders to admit that the protocol “has failed” and is creating “very important trade problems”. He was speaking after a virtual meeting with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic and told the BBC that “the UK government and the EU must now renegotiate”.
“The resulting trade barriers and distortions within the UK internal market must be swept away, not replaced,” he added.
However, Sinn Fein President Mary-Lou McDonald said any idea of changing the protocol was “fantastic”, adding that she was “here to stay”.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney also spoke yesterday with Mr Sefcovic, who heads the EU delegation for Brexit. His spokesperson said he would see what Mr Frost says later this week before making a comment – but Mr Coveney has always said London must honor its obligations and the EU can help with effective enforcement rules.
Dublin and Brussels are both determined that there can be no reopening of the Northern Ireland Protocol or the Brexit deal that was finally reached last Christmas Eve and some of which entered into force January 1st. There have been a series of contested extensions of grace periods and detailed rules.
Yesterday Lord Frost said the trade element of the Brexit deal with Northern Ireland was unsustainable and Britain kept all options on the table as to how it could act.
“We all know the protocol is unsustainable in the way it currently works,” he told a parliamentary committee, saying obstacles to goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland were to be deleted. All options are on the table.
Since the UK left the EU on January 1, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has unilaterally delayed the implementation of certain provisions of the protocol and Lord Frost has said the protocol is not sustainable. Lord Frost is insisting on a tailor-made equivalency-based veterinary agreement that would remove the need for checks on goods crossing Britain to Northern Ireland.
The government argues that there should be a more flexible approach to agrifood rules to limit the impact on daily life, and will clearly spell out the options and risks. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement guaranteed an open Irish land border to help preserve peace, free trade and movement on the island.
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