Northern Ireland protocol ‘not the problem’ says EU ambassador
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The Brexit minister in the Cabinet Office is due to make a Parliamentary Statement outlining the way forward on the Protocol next week. But the impending announcement has ruffled diplomatic feathers in Brussels who fear the UK will be pushy over finding a long-term solution to implementing the Protocol.
Brussels has proposed the UK align with EU food safety standards and agree to a sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) deal, which Commission officials say would do away with 80 percent of checks on goods entering Northern Ireland.
But the UK has ruled out this option and is expected to demand the EU respect their food safety standards and agree on an equivalence arrangement, which Brussels is yet to rule out.
A Brussels source said: “It’s very unclear what to expect from the UK but we are willing to work cooperatively if they don’t drop any big surprise points.
“On matters including checks, we need to have a clear answer from them and effective communication.
“If they do drop big surprise points then we aren’t afraid to put our foot down and make clear the Protocol is here to stay.”
Mairead McGuinness, EU Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Market Union also said the bloc would rule out any further extension of grace periods.
Brussels extended a grace period on chilled meats from June 30 to September 30 to avoid a so-called “sausage war” last month following a request from the UK.
The eurocrat said: “We are not planning to offer an extension to the extension.
“There was no acknowledgement of the work we have done here at EU level”.
She also claimed London would continue “to point the finger” at the EU for trade disruption caused under the Protocol.
The Northern Ireland Protocol, part of the Brexit deal, is aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland by effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.
It will see a raft of further checks on goods arriving in the region from Great Britain later this year.
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But the Protocol is deeply unpopular with unionists and loyalists as it creates a trade border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and means EU rules governing trade in goods still apply in the region.
The UK Government said any agreement on the Protocol implementation must protect the Good Friday Peace Agreement, the 1998 peace argeement which ensures peace and prosperity in the region following the Troubles.
A UK Government source added: “We will set out an approach in due course with the interests of the Good Friday Peace Agreement in mind.
“Maintaining peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland is a priority for us and that cannot be messed with.”
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