Tue. May 17th, 2022

Brussels offers to scrap many border controls between Northern Ireland and the British mainland in an attempt to ease tensions with Britain after London threatened to suspend the NI protocol.

The concessions include allowing the free circulation of many foods across the Irish Sea, reducing the prospect of a “sausage war” in which British-chilled meat would be banned from entering Northern Ireland, which is in fact still part of the bloc’s internal market.

Until now, the European Commission had said it could only drop controls if the UK signed an agreement to adapt its food rules to the EU, which would ban it from developing its own food regulations and could restrict trade with non-EU countries.

But a commission document expected to be approved next week suggests that certain British goods such as sausages and bacon could enter the province. They would also cover other foods that could be easily identified as British, such as Stilton cheese, and eliminate the need for the complicated veterinary forms required for many products. The products should only be labeled as UK and not cross the border into Ireland.

However, the offer seems to fall far short of UK demands that trade with Belfast should be as easy as trade with Birmingham. Food such as A ham sandwich or a packet of chips can still require extensive paperwork and discourage companies from sending them to Northern Ireland.

Lord David Frost, Brexit secretary, has threatened to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol by invoking Article 16 of the post-Brexit trade and cooperation agreement, unless almost all controls are scrapped.

The British government said on Friday: “As we have said before, chilled meat is only an issue out of many that needs to be addressed if the protocol is to be set on a sustainable basis. . . Significant changes need to be made to the Protocol to protect Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement and the peace process. ”

The Commission has already agreed to allow the free circulation of medicines from the United Kingdom by amending a law prohibiting third countries from licensing medicines used in the internal market for the first time. Had Northern Ireland’s NHS had to buy supplies independently, its costs would have risen sharply.

EU officials say the total number of customs controls can be halved. The UK has started building a software system that EU customs officers could access in real time.

“We have been looking hard for ideas. We want to create space for a solution, ”said an EU official. “We are taking a risk. We need the UK to work with us, e.g. About access to databases. Any solution must protect the internal market. The most important thing is peace and stability in Northern Ireland. ”

Maros Sefcovic, the Vice-President of the European Commission who drafted the package, has worked hard to persuade other Commissioners who fear it could set a precedent for the British to push for further concessions.

The 27 member states could demand even stricter measures.

In 2020, Frost accepted the protocol, which left some EU rules in place in Northern Ireland to prevent the construction of a border with Ireland, which would have ignited societal tensions between Protestants and Catholics in the north, which had largely been tamed since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Sefcovic warned in a speech this week that he would not meet Frost’s demand to remove the European Court of Justice as the final judge in the deal.

Video: Opinion: David Allen Green: Northern Ireland Protocol

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