Northern Ireland Protocol
- This week saw the EU deliver its ‘final’ package of recommendations to ease the difficulties of the Northern Ireland Protocol, to the UK.
- These proposals are in response to the UK’s demands for a rewriting of the Northern Ireland Protocol; part of the Withdrawal Agreement designed to avoid a hard border on the Island of Ireland.
- In July this year, due to the rising pressures from the failings of the Northern Ireland Protocol’s successful implementation, Brexit Minister Lord Frost requested a rewrite of the Protocol; principally to eradicate the need for checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
- The Protocol places Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods, therefore the EU trading bloc required customs and regulatory checks on products going to the EU from Great Britain. Part of this was driven by a fear that due to Northern Ireland’s ‘Single market status’, it could become a ‘back-stop’ to the EU, with goods that would usually be taxed or restricted into Europe flowing freely.
- Since the Withdrawal Agreement last year, businesses have felt the impact of overwhelming bureaucratic checks and new systems, requiring industry to face severe challenges to transform their supply chains and recruit additional staff to comply with these requirements.
- Brexit Minister Lord Frost has been invited to Brussels to discuss the recommendations this week, and there is an expectation that negotiating talks will continue over the following weeks, in an attempt to find a workable solution.
- Aside to this, the UK remains in the position to trigger Article 16, to suspend the provision of the Protocol, if it deems relevant. This comes at its own risk however, and is viewed by many as a ‘last solution’, given how it has a strong chance of spiking a trade war between the two blocs, where the EU could seek to impose tariffs on the UK, on key goods and markets, from fishing to car-making in response.
The EU’s proposal at a glance
- In a press conference on Wednesday 13th October, the European Commission unveiled four papers to tackle the current tension over the Northern Ireland Protocol, amounting to significant concessions.
- Hailed by the Vice-President of the European Commission as ‘far-reaching’, this EU proposal seeks to dismiss up to 80% of checks on animal and plant-based products, as well as halving the amount of customs paperwork on goods between the EU and the UK.
- In a considerable concession, EU law would be modified to continue to allow the UK to act as a hub for generic medicines supply to Northern Ireland, removing the need for UK drug manufacturers to relocate infrastructure to Northern Ireland.
- A significant cut to food safety checks (sanitary and phytosanitary controls) is proposed, which would mean health certificates can be provided for one journey, rather than one for each product line. This would aid businesses transporting hundreds of different food products, which would only require additional certificates for high sensitivity goods.
- This would mean goods just destined to Northern Ireland, from Great Britain, would only require a single certificate, stating that all items meet EU legal requirements and standards.
- Northern Ireland would also be exempt from the EU block against the import of chilled meat from Great Britain, providing they align with current EU Bloc standards.
- This however, comes with the expectation that the UK will build full border control posts to allow inspections of goods, whilst increasing monitoring and surveillance to provide product data; to demonstrate to the EU that items are compliant with Bloc rules.
- The proposal would not allow free movement of pets, with the UK currently refusing to agree to “pet passports”, this is likely to be an area of ongoing tension in the upcoming negotiations.
- The EU have ruled out removing the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) current arbitration of EU law in Northern Ireland, citing that without this oversight there cannot be access to the EU single market for Northern Ireland’s goods.
- Brexit Minister Lord Frost has said no compromise can involve this continuation, calling the UK’s sovereignty over Northern Ireland “fundamental”.
- A possible compromise could mirror the EU’s treaty with Switzerland, where an independent panel resolves disputes, but the ECJ is offered a view when questions regarding EU law arise, which must be considered by the committee.
French fishermen must not pay for UK’s Brexit failure, says French minister Beaune
- French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said that French fishermen must not pay for the failure of Britain’s exit from the European Union, adding that “they failed on Brexit. It was a bad choice. Threatening us, threatening our fishermen, will not settle their supply of turkey at Christmas.”
- Paris is infuriated by London’s refusal to grant what it considers the full number of licenses due to French fishing boats to operate in Britain’s territorial waters and is threatening retaliatory measures.
- French fishermen have also said they could block the northern port of Calais and Channel Tunnel rail link, both major transit points for trade between Britain and continental Europe, if London does not grant more fishing licences in the next 17 days.
Britain calls for 800 foreign butchers to avoid pig cull
- Britain will offer six-month emergency visas to 800 foreign butchers to avoid a mass pig cull, it said after farmers complained that an exodus of workers from abattoirs and meat processors had left the pork sector fighting for survival.
- Environment Secretary George Eustice said the temporary visas would address the problem which farmers said was putting livelihoods at risk and causing animal welfare issues, adding that “What we’re going to do is allow butchers in abattoirs and meat processors dealing with pigs, to be able to come in on a temporary basis under the Seasonal Worker scheme for up to six months.”
- He also stated that “it will help us to deal with the backlog of pigs that we currently have on farms to give those meat processors the ability to slaughter more pigs.”