EU strives to defuse N.Ireland row with UK

World | 13 Oct 2021 8:13 pm

The EU on Wednesday will table proposals designed to solve problems in post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland in the hope of averting a new battle brewing with Britain.

A team of EU negotiators was to deliver the plans to London, a day after the UK's Brexit Minister David Frost said the current arrangements on Northern Ireland -- known as the Protocol -- should be ripped up.

The EU refuses to renegotiate the protocol, which was the source of biggest friction in Britain's drawn-out divorce from the European Union after it voted to leave the bloc in 2016.

At stake is preserving peace and stability on the island of Ireland, which is split between the EU-member the Republic of Ireland and the UK's Northern Ireland.

During the Brexit negotiations, Britain accepted that Northern Ireland would remain partly under EU rules, creating a de facto trade border within the United Kingdom.

This has required new checkpoints at ports to stop the risk of goods from England, Scotland and Wales getting into the EU by the back door.

But pro-UK unionists in Northern Ireland fear that would strengthen pro-Irish republicans' case for a united Ireland.


- 'Historic misjudgement' -

London is now seeking to rewrite the protocol. It wants to banish the role of the EU court in solving conflicts within the protocol. That is a non-starter for the Europeans.

Failure by the EU to overhaul the protocol "would be a historic misjudgement," Frost argued in a speech on Tuesday.

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic was to present the EU plans to reporters later Wednesday. Brussels says they are based on a thorough appraisal of the problems on the ground in Northern Ireland.

They will include ways to make it easier for products destined for Northern Ireland from mainland Britain to pass customs checks, as well as special exceptions from EU rules for medicines.

This would solve for example the so-called "sausage war" in which UK authorities accused the EU of purist food safety rules that would deny Northern Ireland chilled meats.

To keep British-made sausages on the shelves, the UK unilaterally extended post-Brexit grace periods that allowed for their import into Northern Ireland.

The EU has suspended its legal proceedings against the UK on the issue.

Looming over the talks is Article 16 of the protocol -- which gives either side the right to say it wants to suspend parts of the trading arrangement if they believe they are flawed.

Britain has threatened to use that provision if the EU doesn't change its attitude on not renegotiating the protocol.

Triggering Article 16 would begin a long legal process in which the EU could hit back with trade measures against Britain. -- AFP

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