News Analysis: Long-term solution remains elusive to UK-EU post-Brexit trade row

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, October 15, 2021
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LONDON, Oct. 15 (Xinhua) -- Britain and the European Union (EU) are expected to get back around the table in the next few weeks to find a long-term solution to their post-Brexit trade dispute with Northern Ireland at the center.

They will aim at smoothing trade through technical changes but also tackle the more challenging problem, the oversight role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Northern Ireland, on which both sides are far apart.


As part of the Brexit deal, the Northern Ireland Protocol stipulates that Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market and customs union to avoid a hard border between the region and the Republic of Ireland. However, this leads to a new "regulatory" border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

By remaining in the EU single market, it means Northern Ireland still follows some EU rules, and goods arriving in the region from other parts of Britain will need to be checked at ports while some meat products are not allowed entry. Temporary light-touch checks are given to supermarket products under the extended grace period to reduce trade disruptions.

More than nine months into implementation, both Britain and the EU recognize the protocol brings problems. The EU acknowledges the protocol is causing difficulties for some businesses and have suggested ways in which its effects can be reduced.

Britain complains the rigid operation of the protocol is unacceptable because it has severely disrupted trade, affected consumers and contributed to political instability.

The current situation has angered pro-Britain unionists in Northern Ireland, resulting in protests and riots raging for days in April in the region.


To find a long-term solution, Britain outlined proposals in a government paper in July to require "significant change" to the Northern Ireland Protocol, interpreted by observers as a renegotiation of the protocol.

Britain's Brexit minister David Frost spoke about "a new legal text" in Lisbon, Portugal, earlier this week, saying the protocol is "the biggest source of mistrust" between Britain and the EU and repeated demand for "significant change" to it.

In addition to technical changes, Britain hopes to fundamentally change the protocol by removing the oversight of the ECJ in Northern Ireland, with international arbitration instead of a system of EU law ultimately policed in the court of one of the parties.

"The Commission have been too quick to dismiss governance as a side issue," Frost said.

In response to Britain's proposals, the EU published its own package to facilitate the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, including cutting customs formalities and simplified certification and an 80 percent reduction of the checks for retail goods for Northern Ireland's consumers. It said it will guarantee uninterrupted supply of medicine to the people of Northern Ireland by changing EU rules.

However, the EU has so far rejected the British offer to overhaul the protocol, stressing that respecting international legal obligations is of paramount importance. European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic repeatedly said the EU "will not agree to a renegotiation" of the protocol.


"The next step should be intensive talks on both our sets of proposals, rapidly conducted, to determine whether there is common ground to find a solution," a British government spokesperson said.

According to the BBC, Sefcovic said he wants to see a revised protocol agreement signed off "before the end of the year". But Britain's former Brexit Secretary David Davis cast doubt on hopes that deal could be done before Christmas.

The proposals are a "starting point", but appear to fall "far short of the fundamental change needed", Northern Ireland's pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium welcomed "signs of movement from both sides". However, a spokesperson said if the proposals are to work they must provide "stability, certainty, simplicity and affordability" to Northern Ireland's business community.

Seamus Leheny, a representative of trade body Logistics UK, told the BBC that companies across Britain are not concerned about the ECJ's role in the Northern Ireland Protocol. "What people want is solutions to the protocol, they want the protocol to work and that is what we are interested in."

"The UK and EU have listened to business on many of the technical solutions needed to protect GB-NI (Great Britain-Northern Ireland) trade. Both sides must now grasp this opportunity to get back round the table --and agree sustainable long-term solutions that work for businesses and communities in Northern Ireland," said Sean McGuire, the Europe director of the Confederation of British Industry. Enditem

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