U.K. Has Drafted Text of Changes to Irish Protocol, Frost Says
The U.K. will push for a “significant change” to the Northern Ireland Protocol and has drafted legal texts of key changes that could speed a revision of the treaty that has left the European Union and the British government mired in a spat over trade flows to the territory.
Over the coming week, the U.K.’s Brexit minister David Frost plans to share a legal text on the changes that the U.K. expects of the European Commission, which he says are needed to end the tensions and reduce the threat to landmark 1998 peace deal that eased sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
“No one should be in any doubt about the seriousness of the situation,” Frost said in the text of a speech to be given in Lisbon on Oct. 12. “That is why we are working to reflect the concerns of everyone in Northern Ireland, from all sides of the political spectrum, to make sure that the peace process is not undermined.”
Frost will tell diplomats in the Portuguese capital that a major revision of the pact will be a “pre-requisite” for better relations between the EU and U.K. in the future.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to customs checks between the two parts of the U.K. as part of his Brexit accord with the EU so that most of the the country could be free of EU regulations without creating a hard border on the island of Ireland.
But since signing the deal, Johnson has refused to implement key elements of the protocol and has unilaterally extended the grace period designed to ease the transition on two occasions. The U.K. has been pushing the EU to completely scrap the protocol, which governs trade flows between Britain, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic in the post-Brexit period.
The EU has said that it won’t renegotiate the protocol, but is willing to make adjustments to ease bottlenecks between Britain and Northern Ireland. On Thursday a top EU negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, signaled the bloc was willing to offer Johnson’s government greater flexibility in shipping pharmaceuticals into Northern Ireland and over the inspecting food products. Customs checks will also be simplified and local institutions will have a bigger role in the process, Sefcovic said.
That’s still a long way short of U.K. demands. Johnson has threatened to invoke Article 16 of the protocol, which gives either side the right to suspend parts of the agreement if it causes “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties.” In that instance, the EU would have the right to take reciprocal measures to safeguard the integrity of the single market and that could disrupt the broader trading relationship between the two sides.
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