Brussels unveils Wednesday, October 12 its proposals to try to calm the tensions created by Brexit in Northern Ireland, opening a new phase of negotiations with London whose demands are considered excessive by the Europeans. The European Commission says it is ready to show flexibility on the implementation of the Northern Irish protocol, held responsible by the British for the supply difficulties in this province. But she refuses any renegotiation, demanded by London, of this agreement.
An integral part of the Brexit Treaty, fiercely negotiated and ratified by the British and European Parliaments, the protocol has governed trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom since the divorce with the EU in January 2020. The solution adopted to both protect the European market and prevent the reestablishment of a physical border on the island of Ireland which would risk weakening the peace is denounced by the unionists because it effectively creates a customs barrier between their province and the island of Great Britain in the Irish Sea.
Brussels thus proposed Wednesday in London to ease controls and customs formalities on certain goods destined for Northern Ireland in order to reduce the supply difficulties in the British province and ease tensions with the United Kingdom. These proposals are our “sincere response to concerns” in Northern Ireland and offer the possibility of making “a real difference on the ground,” European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said at a press conference . Brussels is ready to engage in “intensive discussions with the British government in order to reach” a lasting and joint solution as soon as possible, “said a statement from the European executive. A Commission delegation visited London as soon as possible. Wednesday to present the project.
The Commission has proposed arrangements for “a wide range” of goods originating in Great Britain and “consumed” in Northern Ireland which would reduce checks by around 80% and customs formalities by 50%, creating a sort of “fast lane” for these products. In return, to protect the integrity of the European internal market and ensure that these products do not enter it, London should give guarantees, such as a label indicating that they are intended for sale “only” in the United Kingdom. and provide for a “rapid reaction” mechanism to identify and resolve problems, under penalty of unilateral action by Brussels.
The Commission is also open to discussions to ensure the supply of medicines by Great Britain to Northern Ireland is ensured in the long term. Finally, the EU proposes to improve the exchange of information on the application of the protocol by establishing “a structured dialogue” with the Northern Irish authorities, civil society and businesses. “It is very difficult to predict the outcome of the discussions because we do not know what is the real objective of the British, to solve the concrete problems posed by the protocol or to be free from it”, estimates Eric Maurice, of the Schuman foundation. “If they no longer want checks in Northern Ireland on products likely to cross the border with Ireland and enter the single market, the question of a border between the two Ireland will arise again”, he warns.
London has repeatedly raised the threat of a unilateral suspension of the protocol, at the risk of an open crisis with the European Union and a spiral of trade retaliation. The presentation on Tuesday by British Secretary of State David Frost of a much revised version of the protocol had further increased the tension. David Frost has proposed instituting “international arbitration” to enforce single market laws in Northern Ireland, a change unacceptable to Brussels. The Commission wants the Luxembourg Court of Justice to retain its right to review European rules, as provided for by the Brexit treaty. If the Northern Irish protocol is a source of tension between London and the Europeans, it is not the only subject of dispute. The granting of fishing licenses by the British also arouses strong friction with France.
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