A verbal exchange of blows continues between British and EU officials ahead of a crucial meeting on the Northern Ireland Protocol: Brexit Minister David Frost will receive European Commission Vice President Maros efčovič in London on Wednesday (9 June).
The meeting will discuss what progress has been made after two months of technical discussions on “simplifying the working of the Northern Ireland Protocol”.
Frost previously acknowledged that the UK government had “underestimated the effect of the Protocol on trade in Northern Ireland”. That’s why he repeatedly called on the European Commission to continue negotiations and make concessions.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell, who originally negotiated the protocol, said on Monday he was “quite certain” that the current government is not really as surprised as it is. In London they were well aware that “it was a bad deal”. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leadership agreed with him, however, to achieve the broader goal of wrapping up Brexit – “with the intention of later exiting the Northern Ireland Protocol,” Barwell said.
Meanwhile, controversy is brewing outside Europe as well: US President Joe Biden will likely express his concern about the dispute’s impact on the Northern Irish peace process at the G7 summit, which will be hosted by Johnson. Week.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was negotiated and agreed upon by Frost himself, who was the United Kingdom’s chief negotiator in Brexit negotiations with Brussels. The disputes surfaced later – during negotiations on the UK’s official withdrawal agreement from the EU in January 2020 and a trade and cooperation agreement that came into force earlier this year.
In February Boris Johnson’s administration called for a resumption of negotiations on the protocol; British companies mainly complained about bureaucratic requirements for the delivery of goods in Northern Ireland.
In March the government unilaterally extended the so-called “grace period” for border controls on agricultural foodstuffs until October, instead of implementing it as agreed with Brussels. This in turn prompted the European Commission to take legal action against the United Kingdom, as the unilateral expansion violates the terms of the EU withdrawal agreement.
Since then there have been talks between EU and UK agencies on how to resolve the problems with the implementation of the protocol.
But there is hardly any progress. “The EU has been very patient, but that patience will soon run out,” a commission official warned on Monday. “To date, the UK has not implemented the commitments made in December. The biggest question we face is how can you trust your partner in such circumstances?
British officials, for their part, complain that the EU Commission is too “stubborn” in its interpretation of the Northern Ireland Protocol – especially given the turmoil that the Protocol has caused by companies and the political situation in Belfast. . However, no written response was received from Brussels to submit British suggestions for reform.
Last week, Frost also emphasized that the UK had offered an “equivalence” deal. A new trading system should be introduced to ease customs controls. The Johnson administration in general wants UK domestic standards to be on par with those of the European Union. On the other hand, it categorically rejects any further harmonization of British norms with EU standards for food and agricultural products.
On the other hand, British officials have already indicated that there is no intention to withdraw from the talks and take further unilateral action. However, there was one final caveat: the UK government would continue to “consider all available options”.
[Bearbeitet von Josie Le Blond und Tim Steins]