UK Minister for European Affairs David Frost on Wednesday called on the bloc to tear apart and thoroughly rewrite the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of the UK’s separation agreement that governs the rules of trade and market for the region. The EU declined.

“Compliance with international legal obligations is of paramount importance,” European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said in a statement on Wednesday. “We will not accept a renegotiation.”

The EU’s rejection of the British offer marks another setback in their post-Brexit relationship, after months of increasingly difficult relations on issues such as fisheries, access to financial markets and the status of Gibraltar.

Regarding the current situation in Northern Ireland, Frost told the House of Lords “we cannot continue as we are”. He blamed the Protocol for causing “significant disruption” to trade between the region and the rest of Britain and for causing “societal instability”. He warned the UK would be ready to trigger a suspension clause on parts of the protocol – a move that would dramatically increase tensions with the EU.

What is the problem?

The UK has come under pressure from companies like Marks & Spencer Group Plc to find a solution to rules which companies say are causing delays in getting goods to Belfast. But any attempt to tear up a deal Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged less than two years ago risks further damaging confidence in Britain among Brussels officials.

Under the protocol, goods crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are subject to customs checks and procedures as if entering the EU. Politicians in Northern Ireland and Great Britain have complained that the effective trade border in the Irish Sea threatens the territorial integrity of the UK and has resulted in reduced trade flows to the region.

The EU has long insisted that the Protocol must be implemented as it was originally designed, in order to protect its single market and prevent Northern Ireland from being used as a gateway stolen to smuggle into the block. In March, the EU launched legal action against the UK after Britain unilaterally delayed implementing part of the deal.


In rejecting a renegotiation, Sefcovic said the EU would continue to engage with the UK to find “creative solutions” under the protocol. An EU official said the dispute between the two sides was exacerbated by the fact that Brussels officials did not trust Frost and Johnson.

Addressing the House of Lords, Frost acknowledged that relations have so far been “punctuated by legal challenges and characterized by disagreement and mistrust”. He said that, as a first step, the EU must show that it is serious in solving the crisis.

Business groups in Northern Ireland have expressed disappointment with the UK’s position. Frost’s statement “creates confusion and uncertainty for the company, its supply chain and its customers,” said Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, a lobby group. “Both sides owe it to the people of Northern Ireland to avoid drama and continue dialogue and decision-making.”

To create potential room for negotiation, Frost called on the EU to enter a standstill period, extending current grace periods on regulations allowing the importation of chilled meats and other products into Northern Ireland from from the rest of the UK. He also said the EU should put its legal action against the UK on hold for failing to properly implement the protocol as a “real signal of good intentions”.

Frost said the conditions exist to justify invoking Protocol Article 16 – the section that allows some of its rules to be suspended – but now is not the right time to do so. If the UK took such a step, for example removing customs checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, it would reignite the possibility of border checks on the island of Ireland given the desire EU declared to protect its single market.

The UK plan includes:

  • An honesty system for goods transported from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Goods labeled “for NI” would not be subject to customs controls, but those destined for the Republic of Ireland would be
  • A lightweight system for traders where they would provide information about their supply chains and shipments to authorities, or risk spot checks
  • Goods marked by UK authorities as safe for sale in the country would be allowed to be sold in Northern Ireland without having to prove that they also comply with EU rules
  • The role of the European Court of Justice in the application of parts of the protocol would be ended

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This notice was published: 2021-07-22 02:55:27


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