THE European Union yesterday offered concessions on the implementation of the Northern Irish protocol which are expected to bring to an end the first post-Brexit diplomatic squabble between the bloc and the UK.
On Tuesday, UK Brexit minister David Frost demanded wholesale reform of a pact which effectively creates an Irish sea trade border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Westminster politicians were particularly livid that British-made chilled sausages would be banned under the treaty, which has not yet come into effect due to a series of grace periods being agreed. The arrangement has also angered unionists who say it defeats the purpose of the Good Friday Agreement.
Yesterday afternoon European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic stopped short of rewriting the agreement but proposed a drastic drop in border checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Last night the UK Government said it would study the detail of the EU proposals but the concessions are likely to assuage Westminster anger at the current implementation of the agreement.
Under Sefcovic’s proposals, medicines and agri-foods would be largely exempt from any EU ban and customs checks would be drastically reduced.
The one obvious sticking point remaining concerns the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) role in arbitrating any future trade disputes between the UK and the EU in Northern Ireland. Removing the European court’s oversight has become a totemic issue for many in the Conservative party.
Sefcovic said he had only heard the ECJ mentioned once in his meetings in Northern Ireland.