Northern Ireland may become 'serious problem' warns Rogers
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EU negotiators are arriving in London on Tuesday following the offer to redesign the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol after numerous issues with the de-facto border created within the Irish Sea. The bloc and the UK are currently in talks on a number of issues regarding the much-maligned protocol, including checks on goods and the role of the European Courts of Justice in the protocol.
The negotiations come less than two years after the Northern Ireland Protocol was set out in the original Brexit agreement talks, which ended in December 2019.
The protocol is the Brexit deal which prevents a hard Irish border by keeping Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market for goods.
The Brexit measure has led to numerous trade issues between the UK and Northern Ireland.
Businesses have complained of overly bureaucratic arrangements that have resulted in gaps on supermarket shelves – and the protocol has been blamed for violence in Belfast in April this year.
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The EU, having originally declined the opportunity to reform, has now suggested a package of changes that would reduce the practical impacts of the protocol – but the UK Government wants more significant changes to the role of ECJ.
There has been speculation Lord Frost could support a “Swiss-style” governance arrangement for the protocol – but as talks go on, exactly what will materialise is uncertain.
Under this type of arrangement, an arbitration panel would be created to deal with any disagreements about the protocol, with the ECJ retaining a role to interpret questions of EU law.
However, there’s a lack of unity regarding how much say the ECJ would have in any future disputes, with one government source told the Financial Times: “The role of the European Court of Justice in resolving disputes between the UK and EU must end.”
British officials have been positive regarding the first round of technical discussions which took place last week – but the exact role of the ECJ remains the biggest obstacle for UK negotiators.
Without a compromise, Lord Frost has threatened to activate Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol.
Article 16 allows either side to suspend part of the trade rules in the event of severe disruption.
Lord Frost has insisted he does not want to go to such measures, but EU capitals are urging the European Commission to prepare a range of retaliatory measures if this becomes the case.
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What is the schedule for the talks?
EU and UK officials held technical talks in Brussels last week, and an EU team will arrive in London on Tuesday to pick up where the two sides left off.
The lead negotiators, Lord Frost and Maroš Šefčovič, are expected to meet at the end of next week to take stock of the progress made.
Talks are likely to continue into November – but the UK team has warned solutions need to be found as quickly as possible as the disruption to Northern Ireland “cannot be endured for much longer”.
Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has suggested the talks have a rough deadline of late December.
He said: “I think that window is on offer now to the British government if they want to use it to find a way of implementing the protocol in a way that responds to the vast majority of the issues and problems that have been raised.
“I can’t tell you when the EU will decide that that approach is getting us nowhere if there’s no agreement.
“But certainly I think there’s a window between now and late December, when the EU, I think, will be open to continuing dialogue and trying to find a way of making this work.”
Meanwhile, the European Commission held more talks with the UK over fishing licences on Monday.
The pair are attempting to resolve an ongoing row involving French fishermen who have been threatening protests if progress isn’t made.
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