Brussels will today offer to ‘massively’ reduce the number of border checks in Northern Ireland in a bid to finally resolve a rumbling post-Brexit row with the UK.
The European Commission will publish proposals this afternoon which are designed to reduce trade friction at the border.
Up to 50 per cent of customs checks on goods would be lifted under the offer with an even higher proportion of checks ditched when it comes to checking meat and plants, according to The Telegraph.
However, while the EU is due to give ground on the issue of checks it is expected to dig in over a UK demand to end the European Court of Justice’s oversight of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Lord Frost, the UK’s Brexit chief, made clear in a speech in Lisbon, Portugal, yesterday that Britain wants European judges to be stripped of their role policing the protocol. He wants a system of international arbitration to be put in place instead.
But EU sources have insisted ECJ oversight is a ‘red line’ while The Guardian reported that Lord Frost’s counterpart in Brussels, Maros Sefcovic, has not included any proposal on the role of the court in his new offer to the UK.
However, Mr Sefcovic is expected to say that the EU’s proposals are not ‘a take it or leave it’ offer, opening the door to more discussions.
Lord Frost has said the UK will ‘seriously, fully, and positively’ consider any EU proposals but stressed they must ‘deliver significant change’.
Maros Sefcovic, the EU’s Brexit chief, will this afternoon publish the bloc’s proposals on how to resolve post-Brexit border problems in Northern Ireland
Lord Frost has said the UK will ‘seriously, fully, and positively’ consider any EU proposals but stressed they must ‘deliver significant change’
The Northern Ireland Protocol requires checks on goods travelling from GB to Northern Ireland to be carried out at ports in order to avoid the return of a land border with the Republic but it has caused trade disruption and inflamed community tensions
Dominic Cummings says the Government never intended to stick to its Brexit deal and would ‘ditch bits we didn’t like’ after ‘whacking Corbyn’
Dominic Cummings has suggested it was never the Government’s intention to stick to every letter of the Brexit deal it signed with the EU.
Boris Johnson’s former chief aide claimed he planned to ‘ditch bits we didn’t like’ from the divorce agreement after winning the 2019 general election.
In a series of tweets last night, Mr Cummings said that the UK should ‘of course’ be allowed to ‘sometimes’ break deals ‘like every other state does’.
This is believed to be a reference to the Northern Ireland Protocol section of the Brexit agreement.
Speaking of the pressure he felt to strike the Brexit deal, Mr Cummings wrote: ‘We took over a party on ~10%, worst constitutional crisis in century, much of deep state angling for BINO or 2REF.
‘So we wriggled thro(ugh) with best option we c(oul)d & intended to get the (trolley emoji – a reference to Boris Johnson) to ditch bits we didn’t like after whacking Corbyn. We prioritised.’
The UK has been pushing for a major overhaul of the protocol but the EU has been resisting, favouring tweaks over a significant shake-up.
The Government has repeatedly threatened to trigger Article 16 of the protocol if the EU does not budge which would allow Britain to unilaterally ditch some of the rules.
Unilaterally tearing up the arrangements would almost certainly result in a legal challenge from the EU.
The protocol, agreed as part of the Brexit deal, requires checks on goods travelling from GB to Northern Ireland to be carried out at ports in order to avoid the return of a land border with the Republic.
But it has caused disruption to trade and angered unionists who have demanded the rules be scrapped, arguing they create a barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
It is thought the EU’s offer will include a new ‘red lane’ and ‘green lane’ system to smooth the passage of goods through Northern Ireland’s ports.
Items travelling from Great Britain which are destined to stay in Northern Ireland would go through the ‘green lane’ of minimal checks.
Items which are due to head to the Republic would go through the ‘red lane’ of more stringent checks.
The offer to reduce checks is expected to come with a demand from the bloc for access to real-time UK trade data so it can keep track of any items which could enter the Republic.
An EU diplomat told The Telegraph: ‘The number of checks will go down massively. This is the best way to cut checks, short of a Swiss-style alignment agreement.’
Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic are expected to meet for crunch talks in the coming weeks to try to thrash out a possible compromise.
One senior EU source said last night that the proposals will move towards the ‘light touch regime Britain had been seeking’.
They added: ‘There will always be a certain level of control and checks because that is demanded by the single market, but they will be reduced to a level, which is the absolute minimum, that the EU system can bear.
‘I think for any reasonable person. They should be able to see that the remaining level of restrictions are extremely low, and shouldn’t pose any difficulties for importers or consumers in Northern Ireland.’
However, the stand-off over the issue of ECJ oversight risks scuppering the talks.
Lord Frost said yesterday that the European Commission has been ‘too quick to dismiss governance as a side issue’ when ‘the reality is the opposite’.
EU figures have reportedly been surprised at the emergence of the issue as a major sticking point for the UK, with Brussels insistent that the ECJ must retain its oversight of the protocol.
Lord Frost’s demand to replace the role of the court with a system of international arbitration was last night dismissed by a senior EU diplomat who said it would be ‘impossible’ for the bloc to agree to.
Ireland’s deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar yesterday said Lord Frost’s demands would be ‘very hard to accept’, adding: ‘I don’t think we could ever have a situation where another court could decide what the rules of the single market are.’
Lord Frost used his speech to take aim at French President Emmanuel Macron and his EU allies, saying Britain was ‘constantly faced with generalised accusations that [we] can’t be trusted and are not a reasonable international actor’.
He claimed that alienation between the two sides would be a ‘serious historical error’.
He said: ‘We just want friendly relations, free trade and the chance to do things our own way, all within the framework of a meaningful and robust Western alliance.
‘With this in mind, I do urge you to look at the image you are presenting to us. If there is a trust problem, as we are constantly told there is, it is not the responsibility of only one party.
‘At some point we must both try to raise our eyes to the horizon, look at the possibilities for better relations, and try to help each other solve problems, not create them.’
Any agreement between the two sides would need to be signed off by the 27 EU governments before becoming final.