The European Union on Wednesday offered to reduce customs checks and paperwork on British products intended for Northern Ireland in hopes of averting a new Brexit-related dispute.
The EU put forward a series of proposals to address problems in post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland, which London says are ruling out intra-community tensions.
Britain’s Brexit Minister David Frost said a team of EU negotiators delivered plans in London on Wednesday, saying the current deal – known as the Northern Ireland Protocol – should be cracked.
“I have listened to and worked with Northern Irish stakeholders. Today’s proposals are our genuine response to their concerns,” said European Commission Vice President Maros Sefkovic.
“We look forward to engaging sincerely and deeply with the UK Government in the interest of all communities in Northern Ireland.”
Although the EU says it refuses to renegotiate the protocol, a statement said the plans were “a different model” for its implementation and would “substantially” ease trade problems.
Designing the protocol was a major source of friction in Britain’s drawn-out divorce from the European Union after it voted to leave the bloc in 2016.
Both sides say they seek to maintain peace and stability by avoiding a difficult border on the island of Ireland, which is divided between the EU member Republic of Ireland and the UK province.
The UK said it would look at the proposals “seriously and constructively” and called on both sides to engage swiftly in “intense dialogue”.
A UK government spokesman said: “We need to find a solution that sets all sides behind for the future, that protects the Belfast (Good Friday) agreement, and that strengthens UK-EU relations.” “
– ‘Very little’ –
Ever since the Brexit trade arrangement began, Britain has soured on the terms it had accepted in the heat of their divorce, which created a de facto trade boundary within the United Kingdom.
New checkpoints at ports are needed to prevent backdoor cargo exposure from England, Scotland and Wales into the EU.
But the British government points to pro-UK federalists, who fear the checkpoints strengthen the case for a united Ireland by pro-Irish Republicans and threaten a Good Friday peace deal.
Jeffrey Donaldson, the head of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, said the EU proposals were a “starting point” but “much less than the fundamental change needed”.
London has called for a complete rewriting of the protocol, including the elimination of the EU court’s role in resolving conflicts, a non-start for Europeans.
To reduce friction, the European Union released four texts addressing a range of issues, including complaints of constrained drug supplies, excessive food safety checks and too much paperwork.
Taken together, the solution would create an “express lane” for the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, the EU said.
At all times, there will be “robust surveillance and enforcement” to protect the EU from health and safety threats.
– Sausage ceasefire –
The proposals would solve the so-called sausage war in which UK officials accused the EU of net food safety rules that would deny cold meat to Northern Ireland.
To keep British-made sausages on the shelves, the UK unilaterally extended the post-Brexit exemption period, allowing their import into Northern Ireland.
Article 16 of the protocol hovers over negotiations – which give any party the right to say it wants to suspend parts of the trade arrangement if they believe they are flawed.
Britain has threatened to use that provision if the EU does not change its stance if the protocol is not renegotiated.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)