Defacto Brexit minister Lord David Frost will meet with his EU counterpart tomorrow in a bid to bridge the “substantial gap” between the UK and EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol, the British government has said tonight.
A UK government spokesperson said the EU’s new proposals on how to implement the protocol were proof of “considerable effort”, but that the two sides are still far apart.
Sefcovic yesterday unveiled the EU’s proposals for how to change the implementation of the protocol in order to reduce checks and red tape.
Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls – food safety checks – would be cut by 80 per cent under the EU’s new proposals, while laws would also be changed to ensure medicines can easily be sent from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Frost said on Tuesday that the UK would accept nothing less than a complete rewrite of the protocol.
“We welcome the considerable effort made by Vice President Sefcovic and his team to address the issues that have arisen on the Protocol,” a UK government spokesperson said.
“We are studying the proposals positively and constructively. Our officials are working closely with their EU counterparts to understand the detail.
“Nevertheless it is clear there is still a substantial gap between our two positions. Accordingly there is much work to do. Both we and the EU now have proposals on the table.
“We need to discuss them intensively in the days to come to see if the gaps can be bridged and a solution found which delivers the significant change needed. Lord Frost will meet with Vice President Sefcovic in Brussels tomorrow to begin this process.”
The protocol is a part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and sees Northern Ireland follow the EU’s customs union and single market rules, unlike the rest of the UK, in order to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
London and Brussels are in long-running negotiations over how to implement the protocol, after complaints that checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland have been too onerous and are causing economic and political tensions.
The UK has called for the protocol to change and for there to be an “honesty box” approach whereby most goods will not need to be checked when crossing the Irish Sea if exporters from Great Britain say the products are only intended for use in Northern Ireland.
Frost also said the governance of the deal should be changed so the European Court of Justice (ECJ) no longer has oversight of the deal.
The EU’s ambassador to the UK João Vale de Almeida said the ECJ demand was “impossible”.
“If you want to have access, like Northern Ireland does, to the single market for goods, you need to play by the book,” he said.