On Monday, Brexit minister Lord David Frost urged the European Union to move in negotiations over the trading arrangements in Northern Ireland or Britain may unilaterally suspend the so-called “protocol”.
Britain has asked for “substantial and significant change” covering areas including the movement of goods into Northern Ireland, standards for goods and governance arrangements, and a treaty framework that is not policed by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
But according to EU expert Mujtaba Rahman, EU officials are categorically dismissing the UK’s requests.
He reported that a senior EU official told him: “The ECJ is not even a redline, it’s like the weather – a constant, a permanent.”
Responding to the comments, a senior UK official also told Mr Rahman: “We need them to understand they don’t get to a stable and cooperative relationship with us until they have sorted this thing with the ECJ out.”
Under the protocol, Britain agreed to leave some EU rules in place in Northern Ireland and accept checks on goods arriving from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, in order to preserve an open land border with EU member state Ireland.
The UK Brexit minister has warned of “cold mistrust” in relations with the EU if they do not move, but on Friday, Lord Frost’s EU counterpart, Maros Sefcovic, rejected the idea of renegotiating the deal.
Lord Frost raised the prospect of triggering “Article 16” of the protocol, which allows either side to dispense with its terms if they are proving unexpectedly harmful.
“They would be making a significant mistake if they thought that we were not ready to use Article 16 safeguards, if that were to be the only apparent way forward to deal with the situation in front of us,” he said at the House of Lords.
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The European Commission is expected to outline by the end of September plans that could ease the movement of goods from Britain to Northern Ireland in an effort to ease tensions.
EU diplomats said the Commission’s new ideas, which also include greater involvement of politicians and others in Northern Ireland, would be announced this month.
“Possible solutions would centre around making existing checks less laborious, limiting the amount of paperwork needed,” said one EU diplomat who deals with Brexit, adding the Commission might propose legal changes on the 27 nations’ side to give room for greater leniency towards Britain.
The new package is expected to go beyond previous Commission proposals that included passage for guide dogs, simpler tagging for livestock and easier circulation of medicines, said a second diplomat.
National ambassadors to the EU are due to discuss the plans on Wednesday, followed by national ministers who deal with European affairs at a meeting on Sept 21.
The extension beyond the end of September of grace periods on further checks and trade limitations the EU deems necessary to protect its single market of 450 million people has given some space for talks.