Brexit: London steps up the pressure on Brussels ahead of EU proposals on Northern Ireland

Brexit: London steps up the pressure on Brussels ahead of EU proposals on Northern Ireland
© Belga

The British government wants “significant changes” to the protocol on post-Brexit customs arrangements specific to Northern Ireland and is stepping up the pressure on Brussels ahead of a crucial response from the EU, expected this week.

UK Brexit Minister David Frost is to give a speech to the diplomatic community in Lisbon on Tuesday, Belga News Agency reports.

He plans to tell Europe that it “needs to show ambition and willingness to tackle the fundamental issues at the heart of the protocol head on,” according to excerpts of his transcript released in a statement on Saturday evening.

The Northern Ireland Protocol accompanying the Brexit Agreement is aimed at preventing a hard border in Ireland. However, it introduces controls on goods arriving from the rest of the UK, and critics accuse it of creating a border in the Irish Sea. They also blame it for supply difficulties.

Anger at the text fuelled violent unrest this Spring, raising the spectre of three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland that claimed 3,500 lives by the time a peace accord was concluded in 1998.

According to his office, Frost is expected to say that the UK will look “seriously and positively” at the EU response to its proposals, expected on Wednesday, and would begin “intensive discussions” very soon.

According to the transcript, he will also say that “endless discussions are not an option”, and London would not hesitate to suspend the protocol by activating Article 16. This mechanism can be used to bypass specific provisions of the agreement in the event of severe economic, societal or environmental difficulties.

The British press, lauding this as a victory for the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, reports the EU is preparing to propose a solution to end the so-called “sausage war” by agreeing to exempt goods linked to the “national identity” from the ban on the export of unfrozen meats to Northern Ireland from the rest of Britain.

However, according to the statement from Downing Street, any solution needs to go far beyond the issue of sausages and tackle fundamental issues such as the role of the European Court of Justice in enforcing the laws of the single European market that apply to Northern Ireland.

“Without new arrangements in this area the protocol will never have the support it needs to survive,” according to the transcript of the address to be delivered by Frost in Lisbon.

This demand is unlikely to be welcomed by Brussels, which maintains it is open to negotiations on the application of the protocol but not on the text itself.

According to a UK Government source, “the real question is whether the EU is ready to deal with the extent of the changes needed.”

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