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McEntee says NI protocol is 'vague and lacking in detail on customs' as deadline looms

The Brexit transition period is due to end on 31 December.

Helen McEntee (file photo).
Helen McEntee (file photo).
Image: PA Images

MINISTER FOR EUROPEAN Affairs Helen McEntee has said the detail in the Northern Ireland protocol is vague and does not provide enough information around customs and tariffs, as Brexit negotiations continue.

The protocol contained in the Withdrawal Treaty is the arrangement by which Northern Ireland continues to follow single market rules for goods and administers the EU’s customs code at its ports.

The British government has acknowledged that regulatory checks will be needed on some goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, with the expansion of infrastructure to carry out screening of animals and food products.

It has also insisted there will be no new physical customs infrastructure in Northern Ireland.

McEntee told the Dáil yesterday that the Irish government welcomed the UK publishing its own approach to implementing the protocol but said concerns remain.

“In terms of the Northern Ireland protocol, I am not saying there has been backsliding on it so far. However, what has been presented so far, is not adequate and does not provide enough information,” McEntee stated. 

“It is very welcome that the UK has provided a paper because it now recognises the need for some form of checks going from the UK into Northern Ireland particular on animal products and SPS. However around customs, tariffs and VAT – there is not much detail.

“The paper has some positive elements to it and I welcome the clear recognition for the need for checks on agri-foods entering Northern Ireland and for the new border control infrastructure.”

McEntee called on the UK government to “provide the technical detail necessary to make the protocol fully operational by the end of the year”.

The Irish government will be intensifying Brexit preparedness work given the limited progress in Brexit talks to date, she added.

“Whatever the outcome of these talks, Ireland’s trading relationship with the UK will change. Given the limited progress in negotiations to date and the uncertainty due to Covid-19, Ireland will intensify its Brexit preparedness work.

“This is not about admitting defeat, this is about risk management. Ireland still supports the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK but we must be prepared.”

Conference call next week 

EU chiefs and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have agreed to assess progress on their talks for a post-Brexit trading relationship next week, an EU spokesman yesterday.

Johnson will talk to the heads of the three main EU institutions — the commission, parliament and council — to take stock of their negotiations, according to the spokesman for European Council chief Charles Michel.

The conference call, the first to be held at such a high level, comes as negotiations on a new trade agreement between the two sides have stalled with just six months to go before Britain leaves the EU single market and customs union.

The so-called transition period ends for Britain — which left the EU on 31 January after 47 years inside the European project — on 31 December.

And if the two sides have not reached a free trade agreement by then, the economic consequences could be potentially devastating, particularly in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

A British government spokesman said the two sides had agreed an “intensified timetable” for trade negotiations in July.

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The new process would involve “a mix of formal negotiating rounds and smaller group meetings, both in London and Brussels”, the spokesman said, explaining that discussions would be held every week between 29 June and 27 July.

In addition to British PM Johnson and Charles Michel, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Parliament President David Sassoli will also join the call on Monday.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2020  

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