The UK government has asked the European Union to renegotiate post-Brexit trade deals for Northern Ireland after revolutions and corporate disruptions hit the restricted province.
But the European Commission immediately poured cold water on the demand Wednesday, saying Britain had to comply with its international obligations. The EU has long insisted that it is up to London to implement what it accepted in its Brexit divorce.
London had ceased to suspend the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, which imposes controls on goods passing through mainland Britain.
But Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis told parliament on Wednesday that while the UK had negotiated the protocol “in good faith”, its real-world application by the EU it had involved “considerable and continuous weights.”
“We just can’t continue as we are,” he said.
Rather than ad hoc grace periods for border controls, Lewis said the UK was looking for a “standstill period” for the protocol including legal action by the EU.
He pressed for a new dialogue “dealing with the problems in the round.”
“We invite the European Union to look with fresh eyes and work with us to seize this opportunity and put our relations on a better footing.”
The protocol has been widely negotiated to avoid a hard border with Ireland, effectively maintaining Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market.
European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said on Wednesday that the bloc would seek “creative solutions” to the difficulties of trade between Britain and Northern Ireland caused by Brexit, but would not renounce the Brexit agreement on to Northern Ireland.
“We are ready to continue to seek creative solutions, within the framework of the Protocol, in the interest of all communities in Northern Ireland. However, we will not agree to a renegotiation of the Protocol,” he said. said.
Northern Ireland, which suffered thirty years of sectarian conflict until a peace agreement in 1998, has been shaken by agitation this year, in part against the protocol.
Many pro-UK unionists see it as creating a de facto border in the Irish Sea with mainland Britain and say they feel betrayed.
In its proposals, Britain has ordered the EU to place broader controls and focus more clearly on goods “truly” at the risk of entering its single market via Northern Ireland.
The government insisted that for all other assets, a light touch was needed to preserve the full status of Northern Ireland as part of the UK.
It also seeks the removal of any supervisory role from the European Court of Justice.
Frustrated by the new bureaucracy since the UK left the EU completely earlier this year, many British companies have already suspended sales to Northern Ireland, or are proposing a reduced option.
“Gaps on the shelves”
Retail chain Marks and Spencer said that, in the current form of the protocol, there will be “gaps on the shelves” in Northern Ireland this Christmas.
In a phone call Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told his Irish counterpart Micheal Martin that the protocol “caused a significant disruption” and the changes were essential, according to Downing Street.
But the EU, seeking to preserve the integrity of its single market, says Britain has acted in bad faith, knowing full well what it has signed.
There was no immediate comment from Brussels, but European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen denied last week that the EU was dogmatic in its implementation of the protocol.
Thomas Byrne, Ireland’s European Affairs Minister, said Dublin would “listen carefully to what the British government has to say”, but insisted that any remedy must respect the tough pact.
“We are ready to discuss any creative solution within the limits of the protocol,” he told BBC radio.
“But we must also acknowledge that Britain has decided to leave the European Union’s single market, to apply trade rules, to apply bureaucracy to its goods coming from Britain, to goods that they will enter Britain. “
Prolonged disputes over the protocol draw further concern from the U.S. administration of President Joe Biden.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that the administration wanted the two sides to “negotiate on existing mechanisms when differences arise.”
John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy and former secretary of state, told BBC radio that the Irish-American president was “deeply immersed in the issue”.
Both he and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are “deeply committed to ensuring that the (Good Friday) agreement holds and that peace is ultimately final,” Kerry said.