Brexit: EU offers to cut 80% of GB-Northern Ireland checks on some goo…

The EU has offered to cut 80% of checks on some goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in an effort to avoid a post-Brexit trade clash.

It has drawn up plans designed to ease the flow of items across the Irish Sea, including chilled meats, to put an end to the so-called “sausage war”.

The plans have been published a day after the UK’s Brexit minister Lord Frost demanded a new Northern Ireland Protocol – which is designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

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‘Be flexible, find compromises’ for NI protocol

Lord Frost’s opposite number in the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, called the proposals “meaningful” and “ambitious” as he published four papers that officials will tonight take to London to begin negotiations closest.

Under the plans, the transport of certain foods, plants and items of animal origin from Great Britain into Northern Ireland will be greatly simplified, with checks cut by 80%.

Mr Sefcovic said in functional terms it would average a lorry carrying a combination of dairy, fish and confectionary would only require one certificate instead of multiple certificates for each item.

The number of physical checks on lorries will be drastically reduced and customs paperwork will be cut by 50%.

Mr Sefcovic said this would average a Northern Ireland car dealer ordering parts from Great Britain would only need to provide basic information, such as an invoice with the value.

And the EU has said it would expand the scope on goods not at risk of entering the EU single market to a wider group of businesses and products, so more small and medium businesses, especially, could assistance.

The UK has argued the protocol is not working, with delays and interruptions to supplies moving between the UK and Northern Ireland.

But the EU is hoping what it has called a “emotional simplification” of the rules will bring Westminster on side, allowing for “a kind of express lane that will ease the movement of goods”.

The papers also include plans to ensure the free flow of medicines between Great Britain and Northern Ireland by changing EU laws.

Mechanisms will be changed to ensure the participation of Northern Ireland politicians and communities in the current implementation of the protocol.

Mr Sefcovic said the UK would need to do its part by ensuring long-lasting border control posts are up and running, and making sure food labels are clear and it is possible to monitor “every link in the supply chain”.

The EU says the proposals are meaningful, going way beyond tinkering around the edges.

But the documents do not address the controversial issue of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which under the current agreement is the final arbiter in alleged breaches of the protocol.

Lord Frost has insisted that is not permissible, despite the UK signing the agreement. The EU insists the issue is not negotiable.

Mr Sefcovic said the ECJ issue was only mentioned once during his recent factfinding mission to Northern Ireland.

“I can tell you that in all the meetings I had, and I had quite a few interactions, exchanges and discussions, the issue of the European Court of Justice was mentioned once,” he told a news conference where he announced the proposals.

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Lorries transporting different food products will only need one certificate under the new proposal

Northern Ireland’s DUP, the country’s largest pro-British party, said the proposals are a starting point but fall “a long way short” of the basic change needed.

“We will take time to study the detail of the papers produced. However there is no escaping the reality that the
Northern Ireland Protocol has harmed Northern Ireland, both in economic and constitutional terms,” said party leader Jeffrey Donaldson.

Irish chief Minister Michael Martin said he “strongly” welcomes the package and said he believes the UK government will work with the EU on the proposals, adding that it is “not surprising” implementing the protocol has thrown up functional challenges and concerns.

Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic are expected to meet in the next few days to discuss the plans which the EU says it hopes will rule to complete implementation of the protocol.

However, the meeting will come just days after Lord Frost warned the UK could cause Article 16, suspending parts of the agreement – and leading the two sides into dangerous territory.

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