Relax customs controls in Northern Ireland on products arriving from Great Britain. It is the European Commission’s counterproposal in the face of the United Kingdom’s threats to suspend the Northern Ireland protocol if it is not redone, which means giving up the Brexit agreement for dead. “We are proposing a solution that would result in 80% of customs controls being removed for a wide range of products on supermarket shelves, including Cumberland sausages,” said the European Commission Vice President in charge of the Brexit, Maros Sefcovic: “We must stop red lines and deadlines, we must listen to the people of Northern Ireland and provide stability and certainty within the European single market”
“We are aware that there have been problems with the implementation of this agreement,” explain community sources about what was signed in October 2019 at the request of Boris Johnson: “Many of them are the result of the Brexit chosen by this government of the Kingdom. But others they are the unintended result of the application of the Northern Ireland protocol, and they are affecting people’s lives. ”
“We are studying the details”, reply British Government sources: “The next step should be intensive discussions on the two sets of proposals, which will be carried out quickly to determine if there is common ground to find a solution.” And they add: “Significant changes must be made that address the fundamental issues at the heart of the Protocol, including governance, if we are to agree to a lasting agreement that is supported by Northern Ireland.” And it is precisely governance, which has to do with the role of the Court of Justice of the EU, which is precisely not addressed by the community proposal this Wednesday.
If on Tuesday the British minister for Brexit, David Frost, again threatened a trade war if the EU did not agree to redo the Northern Ireland protocol, this Wednesday Sefcovic responded to the challenge of Boris Johnson, who has spent a few days in a friend’s house in Marbella.
Brussels has sent a non-legislative text to London on Wednesday that covers four different areas: the movement of sanitary and phytosanitary goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland; East-West merchandise trade; customs matters for medicines; and the involvement of Northern Ireland stakeholders.
“It is not an all or nothing,” they say in Brussels: “We want these proposals to be incorporated into our discussions with the UK in the coming weeks. We believe this package is profound. It proposes a different model for the application of the protocol, and it is based on flexibilities inherent in the protocol and EU legislation. And it shows that we can find solutions to real problems without renegotiating the protocol. ”
Thus, Brussels proposes to remove most of the controls on trucks transporting food products from the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland to relax the supply chains of retailers, as long as they are labeled as UK or NEITHER.
The Commission also offers to change the EU rules to allow chilled meats – such as the famous sausages – to move from Great Britain to Northern Ireland with some less controls (disease and origin); allowing the UK to license medicines for Northern Ireland, ensuring the continuous supply of cheap generic medicines; reduce customs inspections as long as London grants access to real-time data.
What Brussels does not address is Boris Johnson’s demand, expressed for the first time last July, to abolish the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the EU, which would remove Northern Ireland from the single market allowed by the invisible border with the Republic of Ireland to comply with the Good Friday Agreements. “It is the first time I have seen that claim”, Sefcovic acknowledged: “No one in Northern Ireland has asked us to do so.”
Sefcovic admits that trade between Britain and Northern Ireland is not as smooth as he would like: there have been protests from unionists; Trade union complaints about controls on goods crossing the Irish Sea, causing supply problems, while a ban on free-entry chilled meats – sausages – from the UK to Northern Ireland also created a stir.
The protocol keeps Northern Ireland in the single market and therefore subject to its rules, while the rest of the UK abandoned it. The causes of that protocol have to do with avoiding having controls on the island of Ireland, which could have exacerbated tensions in addition to violating the Belfast peace accords.
However, according to Downing Street, the protocol has resurrected tensions between the two communities over Northern Ireland’s controls on goods from England.
Regarding the phytosanitary issues, Brussels initially proposed a Swiss-style agreement to overcome difficulties related to the movement of food products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, which would have eliminated 100% of sanitary and phytosanitary controls on products. “But the UK government didn’t want that, and we are now proposing a Northern Ireland specific solution that would result in roughly 80% of customs controls being removed for a wide range of retail products found in supermarket shelves, including hot dogs. ”
But “the border control posts must work,” say community sources, “otherwise, the remaining controls will not be able to be carried out correctly. That is, we propose a different model, less controls on the one hand, but, on the other, more guarantees and more market surveillance. Strengthening the monitoring of supply chains will also be essential. Therefore, a truck transporting different food products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland only requires a certificate that indicates all products and that they comply EU standards. So if a truck carries 100 different types of goods, it will have to make a certificate instead of 100. And animal products, such as yogurt, cheese, chicken and turkey, no longer they will be subject to the same level of controls. This kind of thing is possible if governance is strengthened, if monitoring is increased. ”
But all of this, the European Commission says, depends on the UK “delivering on its commitment to complete the construction of permanent border checkpoints, specific packaging and labeling stating that the goods are for sale in the UK only, and a strengthened monitoring of supply chains. In addition, safeguards would include a rapid reaction mechanism and EU measures in the event of non-compliance by the UK competent authorities or the trader. ”
Regarding customs, the European Commission proposes to “halve the paperwork and further develop the list of goods that are not at risk of entering the single market. Currently, only Northern Ireland manufacturers with low turnover or product supplies retailers may be covered by this scheme. There is scope to expand coverage. Secondly, with regard to customs, we want to expand the use of this concept of goods that are not at risk to find additional measures in what regards customs paperwork. ”
They are measures “that will simplify and facilitate customs formalities and formalities,” says Brussels, “and will cut in half the documentation needed for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. This is also subject to safeguards, such as the UK’s commitment to provide full and real-time access to IT systems, a review and termination clause, as well as UK customs and market surveillance authorities implementing the control measures. ”
In this way, “the proposals on sanitary and phytosanitary and customs regulations will create a kind of ‘fast lane’ for the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, while at the same time providing a robust control and enforcement mechanism to protect the integrity of the single market “.
The third chapter deals with the drugs. “The result is that Britain’s pharmaceutical companies, when supplying the Northern Ireland market, can maintain all their regulatory functions,” says Brussels, “What does this mean in practice? That Britain can continue to act as a hub. for the supply of generic medicines for Northern Ireland, which means changing the current EU rules. It means that these companies acting as hubs in Great Britain would not have to move the infrastructure to Northern Ireland. That means that it can be guaranteed the long-term supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland without increased costs. ”
And as for the political participation, the European Commission states: “We are talking to civil society, companies and authorities in Northern Ireland to make the implementation of the protocol more transparent for them. The solution is to institutionalize and strengthen the dialogues between Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland stakeholders. the Commission”.