| 17 October 2021, Sunday |

EU to propose easing checks on British trade to N. Ireland

The European Commission will present a package of measures to Britain on Wednesday aimed at making it easier for products to transit through Northern Ireland, but it will fall short of the overhaul London is asking of the province’s post-Brexit trading laws.

The EU executive’s actions are aimed at easing customs regulations, including as the passage of meat, dairy, and other food goods, as well as the flow of medications from the UK mainland to the British province.

However, it will not allow the protocol governing Northern Ireland’s unique trading position to be renegotiated, putting Brussels and London on a collision course.

On Wednesday afternoon, before a news conference set for 6:30 p.m., Maros Sefcovic, the commission vice-president in charge of EU-UK relations, will submit the ideas to EU governments and members of the European Parliament.

The commission will also lay out ideas for more engagement with Northern Ireland residents.

The British government would engage completely and constructively with the European Union on the ideas, according to Oliver Dowden, co-chairman of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, who added that the actions he had read about thus far were “positive.”

“We will look at them and engage properly with them,” he told Sky News, while also saying it was important there was “fundamental change” to the protocol.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin told Newstalk radio station that the EU had listened to legitimate concerns about the protocol and was in “solution mode” and the British government had a responsibility to be in that mode too.

“It takes two to tango,” he said.

The proposals could enable supermarkets to supply Northern Irish stores with sausages and other chilled meat products from Britain that are banned from entry into the European Union – and so in theory into Northern Ireland.

While remaining part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has stayed in the EU’s single market for goods, meaning its exports to the rest of the bloc face no customs checks, tariffs or paperwork.

Sefcovic has said the arrangement allows Northern Irish businesses to enjoy the best of both worlds. However, the result is an effective customs border in the Irish Sea, disturbing trade from Britain to Northern Ireland and angering the province’s pro-British unionists.

Under the commission’s plans, British sausages, for example, would be allowed into Northern Ireland as long as they were solely intended for Northern Irish consumers.

“That’s our proposal. We will put it on the table. If… this is rejected, then indeed we have a problem,” Sefcovic said in comments last week.

British Brexit Minister David Frost said in a speech on Tuesday that London would be ready to discuss the proposals “whatever they say”, but also demanded a new “forward-looking” protocol, one without oversight from European judges.

The EU has said it cannot see how a body other than the EU’s top court could rule on the EU single market.