EU Unveils Proposals to Slash Brexit Checks Required Under the Northern Ireland Protocol

By PA
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October 13, 2021 Updated: October 13, 2021

The European Union has unveiled a series of proposals that would slash the red tape burden on Irish Sea trade created by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

The European Commission measures would see an 80 percent reduction in checks envisaged for retail agri-food products arriving in the region from Great Britain.

The proposed changes to the contentious post-Brexit trading arrangements would also remove the prospect of certain British produce, including Cumberland sausages, being banned from export to Northern Ireland.

The plan also includes a 50 percent reduction in customs paperwork required to move products into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

More products and companies would be exempt from customs tariffs as a result of expanding trusted trader arrangements and a concept that differentiates between goods destined for Northern Ireland and those “at-risk” of onward transportation into the Irish Republic.

The EU has also offered to legislate to ensure no disruption to the supply line of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The commission has also pledged to enhance engagement with stakeholders in Northern Ireland, including politicians, business representatives, and other members of civic society.

The EU said the proposals were based on flexibilities inherent within the protocol but also went a bit further.

In return for the scaled-back checking regime, the EU has asked for certain 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.

These 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.

It said access to the real-time data, and the construction of new checking facilities at ports in Northern Ireland, were commitments the UK had already made but was yet to deliver on.

While the range of measures would go some way to reducing everyday friction on trade caused by the protocol, they do not address a UK demand over the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

UK Brexit minister Lord Frost has made clear the removal of the ECJ’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.

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.

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 has also created a major political headache for the government, as unionists and loyalists 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.

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