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At odds with UK, EU proposes to create “fast track” in Northern Ireland protocol

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic

The European Union is open to changing parts of the agreement and facilitating trade, but continues to reject a general renegotiation of the protocol. Boris Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings also revealed that the UK never intended to comply with the protocol.

After repeatedly rejecting British calls to negotiate a new protocol for post-Brexit trade with Northern Ireland, the European Union has now unveiled a pact of “significant and substantial” solutions to the problem.

“We explored all the possibilities, and we are proposing an alternative model for implementing the protocol. We are not presenting these proposals to the UK government as “it’s either this or nothing”. We want them to feed the discussions in the coming weeks”, said the vice president of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, in the presentation of the proposals in Brussels.

Despite this, the EU is not open to renegotiating the deal, as David Frost, Britain’s Brexit minister, demanded on Tuesday, thinking it would create “uncertainty”. “There is a reason why the protocol negotiations took three and a half years, because these are difficult problems. And we think we’ve come to only possible solution“he says.

It is recalled that David Frost described the current protocol as “disruptive” and “highly harmful” in a speech in Lisbon, saying that it is causing “serious disturbances” in Northern Ireland.

Less bureaucracy and costs

The changes introduced by the Union begin with an attempt to facilitate the transport of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in the cutting bureaucracies and costs for traders while introducing more structural protections and more surveillance.

The European proposal states that companies that send goods from England, Wales or Scotland to Northern Ireland would only have to fill half of the paperwork of current customs.

The list of goods that the EU considers will remain in Northern Ireland and which will not secretly enter European space through the Republic of Ireland could also be extended. This goods would not have to pay customs duties and bureaucracy would be greatly reduced, something Brussels thinks would benefit small and medium-sized businesses.

To ensure that these goods would effectively stay in Northern Ireland, it is necessary to “robust monitoring and safeguard mechanisms”, stressed Sefcovic, who recalls that the United Kingdom has not finished the construction of permanent border control posts, “which should have been in operation for a long time”.

Brussels also insists that the UK guarantee European officials access to databases that record the movement of goods and that build checkpoints crossings in the ports of Northern Ireland. Sefcovic recalls that the country has pledged to comply with these conditions established in the protocol, but that it is not doing so yet.

The EU is also open to cutting “approximately 80%” from phytosanitary checks on retail food entering Northern Ireland, including products that are important to the British economy such as sausages and cheese.

In practice, a lorry from Great Britain transporting 100 different products such as meat, fish, dairy or vegetables to Northern Ireland would only need one certificate instead of 100. Additional certificates would only be needed for “very goods specific,” explains Sefcovic.

The UK has previously complained that these controls exacerbate the shortages supermarkets in Northern Ireland, as producers find it not worth having to go through all the red tape to sell in the region.

The two proposals “would create a kind of fast lane that would vastly facilitate the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland”, stresses the Commission deputy.

Generic drug trade

The Commission will also change European law to allow the British to remain an axis of supply of generic drugs for Northern Ireland, something that is not included in the protocol. The proposal would do away with the need for all drug manufacturers to move to Northern Ireland.

This was also one of the concerns of Boris Johnson’s government, which feared that the huge costs for companies to make this change would undermine the incentive to sell medicines to Northern Ireland.

However, the UK has previously said that European proposals do not really deal with certain types of medicines, such as new cancer treatments that have to be approved by the European Medicines Agency to enter Northern Ireland. London wants all medications, and not just generics, are removed from the protocol.

The EU also wants a increased participation of Northern Ireland institutions in the committees that assess the implementation of the Brexit agreements, something the British had already demanded.

London also wants the European bloc end supervision by the European Court of Justice European laws in Northern Ireland and to replace it with a system similar to that of other international trade agreements. However, the Commission rejects this requirement.

“We believe that this package, which contains practical, imaginative and robust solutions, offers a robust answer to dealing with the consequences of ‘Brexit’”, concluded Sefcovic, stressing that the aim is for Northern Ireland “to reap the benefits and seize the opportunities” of simultaneously belonging to the British and European markets.

“We never intended to comply with the protocol”

These disagreements between the European bloc and Johnson’s executive were commented on by his former advisor and advisor, Dominic Cummings, who revealed on Twitter that the United Kingdom has always intended to “drop” the protocol and that he only approved it as an electoral trump card to “fix with (Jeremy) Corbyn”, former Labor leader, before the legislative ones.

Cummings says that the government has always wanted not to fulfill “parts we didn’t like”. “Do we generally have to comply with agreements? Clear. Should we sometimes break them? clear. Just like the EU, the United States, China or any other state does”, he says.

Cummings’ revelations caused controversy in the Republic of Ireland, where former Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who negotiated the protocol with Boris Johnson in 2019, said these statements show that the British government not to be trusted.

“These comments are very disturbing because they indicate that this is a government that acted in bad faith and that message needs to be heard by the world, because if the British government does not honor its commitments and does not adhere to the treaties it signs, that must apply to everyone else as well”, explained Varadkar to Irish television RTÉ.

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