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EU proposals on Northern Ireland Protocol not enough: UK Brexit minister

EU proposals on Northern Ireland Protocol not enough: UK Brexit minister
Main sticking point now is role of European Court of Justice

By Karim El-Bar

LONDON (AA) - The European Union’s recent concessions on the Northern Ireland Protocol “don’t go far enough,” UK Brexit Minister Lord Frost told a parliamentary committee Monday.

Speaking to the European Scrutiny Committee, he admitted that Brussels’ proposed changes to the protocol “do, for the first time, acknowledge they might be willing to change their own laws in order to deal with the special situation in Northern Ireland" but added that “the problem with them is that they don't go far enough.”

"I'm not sure they would quite deliver the kind of ambitious freeing-up of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland that we want to see, but what we're trying to test is whether they could find the basis to go further than what they have put on the table,” he said.

"That's the kind of discussions we have been having, and it has been quite constructive so far. But the gaps between us remain significant, and there is a lot of working through to go."

To avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and then-chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost negotiated the Northern Ireland Protocol, which placed a de facto border instead between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

This is because the protocol basically means that Northern Ireland still has to abide by some EU rules and certain goods from the UK to Northern Ireland have to be checked.

The protocol is unpopular with hardline Brexiteers as well as Northern Irish unionists, who see it as putting too much distance between them and the UK mainland.

Responding to calls from the British government for reform, the EU’s latest proposal would see an 80% cut in checks on retail agri-food products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and a 50% cut in customs paperwork.

An EU delegation will arrive in London on Tuesday for fresh talks on the protocol.

The main sticking point now in the UK’s seemingly endless Brexit negotiations with the EU is the role of the European Court of Justice.

The UK wants its role in arbitration abolished, while the EU has steadfastly refused that demand.

“It's highly unusual in an international treaty to have disputes settled in the court of one of the parties, and that is the fundamental principle that we take into this, and the fundamental thing we need to remove from the arrangements going forward," Lord Frost told the committee.

He also told the committee that he felt the conditions for triggering Article 16 had been met but that despite this, he still wanted to secure an agreement with Brussels.

Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol allows either party to undertake unilateral safeguarding measures if the protocol leads to “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade.”

"It would be much better for stability, prosperity and certainty for everybody in Northern Ireland if we could reach an ambitious agreement with the EU that dealt with the problem, because then we could move on and everyone would know where they stand. I'm still focusing on that,” Lord Frost said.

"As we have said, we think the test for using Article 16 is passed, but we would still like to come to an agreed arrangement if we can, and that is what we are trying to do."

Lord Frost also touched on the issue of how long the latest rounds of talks would take: "We all see this as an issue for this autumn, to be settled one way or the other."

source: News Feed
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