EU offers to end most Northern Ireland checks in bid to break Brexit deadlock

Proposals expected to dramatically reduce the number of checks on goods moving from Great Britain
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By Adam Payne

13 Oct 2021

The European Union will today unveil what it has described as "very far-reaching" proposals for changing the Northern Ireland Protocol after the UK's Brexit chief Lord Frost warned Brussels that refusing to rewrite the treaty would be a "historical misjudgement".

Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission Vice-President, will announce the proposals at a press conference later today before UK and Brussels negotiators start another round of talks which are expected to continue into November.

The EU is expected to propose major changes to how the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland operate, with one Brussels official telling CSW's sister title PoliticsHome they are "really substantial".

While the details are yet to confirmed, the bloc is expected to say it is willing to dramatically reduce the number of checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in a bid to end months of wrangling with Boris Johnson's government.

The package of proposals is also set to include allowing businesses in Great Britain to continue sending chilled meats like sausages and pies to Northern Ireland, putting an end to the so-called sausage war.

The question is whether the proposals will be enough to satisfy the UK government, with Cabinet Office minister Lord Frost yesterday calling for the current Northern Ireland Protocol, which was agreed by both sides as part of Brexit talks, to be replaced by an entirely new treaty.

Conservative party chairman Oliver Dowden this morning told LBC that the government would "engage constructively" with the proposals but repeated the UK warning that there had to be "fundamental changes" to the treaty.

This includes addressing the role of the European Court of Justice in overseeing the treaty, Dowden said, which is an area the EU is not expected to offer major compromises on.

In a punchy speech in Lisbon on Tuesday, Frost said the protocol in its current form had lost the consent of unionists in Northern Ireland and was threatening the Good Friday peace agreement.

"The way this is happening is disrupting ordinary lives, damaging large and small businesses, and causing serious turbulence to the institutions of the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement within Northern Ireland," he said.

Frost said that based on what he had seen of the EU proposals they "may not do the job on the first round," indicating that he won't reject them outright and would be prepared to negotiate.

However, his several combative remarks — which included accusing the EU of not wanting the UK to succeed — were noticed in Brussels, with one figure describing the speech as "needlessly antagonistic".

The latest comments of Dominic Cummings, who was chief adviser to Johnson when the Brexit deal was signed, will likely also have been noticed by figures on the continent.

In a Twitter exchange last night Cummings admitted he never intended to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol as it was agreed and that his plan was to "ditch the parts we didn't like".

The Northern Ireland Protocol, which was part of what Johnson described as an "oven-ready" Brexit deal, was designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, and came into effect at the beginning of this year.

But the UK government has since said they want to fundamentally renegotiate the treaty, arguing that it is causing an unacceptable level of disruption to trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Staunchly unionist politicians in the province also argue that it is an assault on their identity by creating different rules for Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Adam Payne is a reporter at CSW's sister titles PoliticsHome and The House Magazine, where a version of this story first appeared.

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