Brussels makes major concessions on Northern Ireland trade

Brussels offered to scrap most checks on British goods arriving in Northern Ireland in a major climbdown last night – but it was not enough for Boris Johnson.

The EU made a string of concessions, but rejected the UK Government’s demand to axe the oversight role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the province.

Britain and the EU will now head back to the negotiating table today for yet more Brexit talks – more than five years after Britain voted to leave, and almost two years after Mr Johnson announced he had an ‘oven-ready’ deal.

The European Commission conceded it was ‘preparing for the worst’ amid concerns Mr Johnson will not accept its deal, aimed at resolving the dispute over Northern Ireland.

EU officials last night arrived in London as the two sides embark on around three weeks of intense negotiations to see if they can bridge their differences.

Brussels offered to scrap most checks on British goods arriving in Northern Ireland  but it was not enough for Boris Johnson.

Brexit minister Lord Frost and his EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic are expected to hold a face-to-face meeting tomorrow as part of the fresh round of talks. 

If they fail to make progress, the minister has threatened the UK could trigger a clause that would allow it to unilaterally suspend parts of the agreement.

Britain begins talks with Italy

Britain has begun talks with Italy on a new partnership to boost trade. International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said officials will look at how they can increase exports for both British and Italian firms.

Speaking alongside Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio in Sorrento yesterday, she said: ‘Enhancing our bilateral relationship with Italy is a win-win.

‘Italy is our ninth-largest trading partner, while the UK is Italy’s fifth-largest export market – I am delighted we are kicking off this discussion.’

 

Such a drastic move could provoke a trade war, as the EU may retaliate by imposing new tariffs on British goods. 

As part of Brexit negotiations, the UK and EU agreed to the Northern Ireland protocol, designed to avoid the need for a border.

But this has led to disruption to goods crossing the Irish Sea, with new checks imposed.

Concerns have also been raised that Northern Ireland’s place within the UK is being undermined. 

The European Commission last night put forward a package of measures aimed at addressing some of the issues, including slashing red tape.

Under the plan, around 80 per cent of checks on supermarket products arriving in Northern Ireland from Britain would be removed and customs paperwork halved. 

A ban on the import of chilled meats would be ditched so British sausages can continue to be sold in the province.

Brussels would also allow medicines licensed for sale in the UK to be prescribed in Northern Ireland without needing further checks by European regulators.

However, the proposals do not address the Government’s key demand that European judges lose their oversight function.

The UK wants the current system, which gives the ECJ the final say in any future trade dispute, to be replaced with an independent arbitration process.

Mr Sefcovic told a press conference in Brussels last night that the EU had turned its rules ‘upside down and inside out’ to find a resolution.

The EU made a string of concessions, but rejected the UK Government's demand to axe the oversight role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the province

The EU made a string of concessions, but rejected the UK Government’s demand to axe the oversight role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the province

‘Now I invite the UK Government to engage with us earnestly and intensively on all our proposals,’ he said. ‘With them I’m convinced we could be in the home stretch when it comes to the protocol.’ 

At a private meeting with MEPs last night, Mr Sefcovic signalled the EU would stand firm on the issue of European judges. ‘We made the rules of the game very clear,’ he said.

The European Commission vice president said he believed they had ‘an offer that will be difficult for [Britain] to refuse’. 

But one EU official conceded there ‘remains a very big gap between the ideas that we’re putting on the table… and what the UK Government is asking for’, adding: ‘Of course, we hope for the best, we prepare for the worst.’

Speaking in the Lords yesterday, Lord Frost said he was hopeful of finding an agreement.

He told peers: ‘We’re beginning a negotiation and we’ve got a track record of reaching successful outcomes in negotiations despite the predictions that we would not, and I hope we’ll do so again this time.’

From sausages to drugs, what the Eurocrats are proposing

SUPERMARKET GOODS

Proposals could see 80 per cent of checks removed on goods moving from Great Britain to be sold on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland

Proposals could see 80 per cent of checks removed on goods moving from Great Britain to be sold on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland

Proposals put forward by the European Commission would see 80 per cent of checks removed on goods moving from Great Britain to be sold on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland. 

Lorries transporting different food products would only need one certificate stating all the goods rather than a separate one for each type.

VERDICT: Britain will welcome this.

SAUSAGES

The EU ban on the import of chilled meats, which would have prevented sausages and burgers entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, will end

The EU ban on the import of chilled meats, which would have prevented sausages and burgers entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, will end 

An EU ban on the import of chilled meats, which would have prevented sausages and burgers entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, will end thanks to a special exemption. 

Brussels is proposing a new category of ‘national identity’ products to include British produce.

VERDICT: Britain will welcome this.

CUSTOMS CHECKS

Paperwork will be halved for goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Britain under the EU’s offer

Paperwork will be halved for goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Britain under the EU’s offer

Paperwork will be halved for goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Britain under the EU’s offer. 

For example, a car dealer in Belfast buying parts from London will only need to provide basics such as the total value of the shipment rather than detailed information.

VERDICT: Britain will welcome this.

MEDICINES

EU will allow medicines licensed for sale in the UK to be prescribed in Northern Ireland

EU will allow medicines licensed for sale in the UK to be prescribed in Northern Ireland 

The EU will allow medicines licensed for sale in the UK to be prescribed in Northern Ireland without having to undergo further checks by European regulators. 

Brussels promised to change legislation to ensure no disruption to medical supplies.

VERDICT: Britain will welcome this.

EUROPEAN COURT OF JUSTICE

The proposals by the European Commission offered no progress on this issue. Brexit minister Lord Frost has made clear the removal of the oversight function of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in policing the protocol is a red line for the Government. 

The UK wants to remove a provision that gives the ECJ the final say in any future trade dispute and to replace it with an independent arbitration process.

VERDICT: Failure to move forward on this key issue threatens to blow up the talks.

LABELLING AND SURVEILLANCE

Brussels is demanding extra safeguards to stop goods arriving into Northern Ireland being smuggled into the EU

Brussels is demanding extra safeguards to stop goods arriving into Northern Ireland being smuggled into the EU

In return for removing checks and customs paperwork, Brussels is demanding extra safeguards to stop goods arriving into Northern Ireland being smuggled into the EU. 

They want real-time access to British government databases on products crossing from Great Britain and for products to be labelled as for sale only in the UK.

VERDICT: Britain has until now resisted these but may agree if they unlock other compromises.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk

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