Brexit: Ireland ‘wants to punish the UK’ says Hoey
The export of chilled meats such as sausages from England, Scotland and Wales to Northern Ireland will be banned from October unless a new arrangement can be secured. There is also concern about the supply of medicines, with a British pharmaceutical trade association warning that more than 2,000 medicines could be withdrawn if new regulations due to be introduced in January make it “unviable” to export to Northern Ireland. The UK request for a standstill would mean existing “grace periods” covering the import of products such as chilled meats and medicines would continue.
Britain wants to renegotiate key aspects of the protocol, which was introduced to avoid the need for customs checks on the Irish border but is blamed for impeding trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The move will be seen as a compromise offer. The UK Government has said there are “clear grounds” to justify overriding the protocol using Article 16 of its deal with the EU, but under the standstill proposal existing measures would remain in place while discussions continue.
The offer has raised concerns in unionist circles, where there is anger at the impact the arrangements have already had on daily life.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson said: “I really don’t understand what the point of the standstill would be.”
Brexit ultimatum: UK asks EU to bring deal to ‘standstill’ as food supply threatened (Image: GETTY)
Boris Johnson and Simon Coveney (Image: GETTY)
He fears that existing rules will become the “status quo” and people will “have to continue to live with all the problems that are being faced at present”.
The East Antrim MP, who predicts the offer will go down badly in Conservative ranks, wants the UK to make it clear to the EU that unless it seriously engages in negotiations “we will take action ourselves to protect our internal market”.
However, former Brexit minister David Jones saw the standstill proposal as a shrewd move.
He said: “The offer of a standstill is a prudent one, allowing for time to negotiate new, permanent arrangements to replace the current flawed protocol. The EU would do well to agree.
“The strict terms of the protocol undermine the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement, which has guaranteed peace in Northern Ireland for over 20 years. Neither party can allow that to be damaged.”
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EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (Image: GETTY)
A senior Government source setting out the thinking behind the offer, saying: “We need to deal with the fundamental problems that have arisen since the start of the year. We are asking for significant change, but changes that will build on the foundations and concepts of the existing protocol, and are intended to deliver on its core objectives in a way that works for the people and businesses of Northern Ireland.
“A standstill is necessary to prevent the situation deteriorating further as grace periods end, but also to create the space to find durable arrangements. We need to move on from argument and mistrust, reset UK/EU relations and deliver for [Northern Ireland] for the long term.”
Lindsay Appleby, the head of the UK Mission to the EU, has written to the European Commission’s Secretary General to make the case for a standstill.
Under the proposed terms, as well as existing grace periods continuing, legal proceedings would be paused. In March, the Commission launched legal action against the UK after the introduction of checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain were delayed.
The letter states that a standstill “would rest on a purely political understanding” between the two sides.
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Boris Johnson signing the Brexit deal on Christmas Eve (Image: GETTY)
The Protocol has sparked unrest in Northern Ireland (Image: GETTY)
It adds: “This situation could always be ended by either side at will, preferably in a way which allows both sides time to prepare. Meanwhile, the practical effect would be to ensure that the protocol is operated as now, without cliff edges, deadlines, or pressure points, while discussions are ongoing.
“We believe this would be helpful to enhancing trust and confidence between us.”
This follows a stark warning by Marks and Spencer chairman Archie Norman about the problems the protocol has already caused for the retailer – and how the situation could get much worse if grace periods are allowed to end.
He described how M&S needed to complete 40,000 pages of customs documents per week and that will increase to 120,000 in October.
A single error on a form can result in a truck carrying 650 items being stopped, he said. The food giant is already cutting the supply of Christmas products to Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, Mark Samuels, the chief executive of the British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA), has warned that its companies have “been forced to put on notice over 2,000 medicines for withdrawal from Northern Ireland”.
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He warned that if companies are unable to supply “an identical product to Great Britain and Northern Ireland” this would “require extra warehousing, laboratory testing and technical specialists”.
The UK Government says it is ready to enforce customs rules on goods going to the Republic of Ireland via Northern Ireland. But is insists that goods that will remain in Northern Ireland should be able to “circulate near-freely” and that products that meet UK standards must be available to shoppers in the province.
Britain also wants the “policing role” over the protocol of the EU institutions and the European Court of Justice removed.
Brexit minister Lord Frost is due to speak to Maroš Šefčovič, the vice-president of the European Commission, before the end of the month.