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NI Protocol

EU Brexit chief considers reducing Northern Ireland border checks

Sefcovic said physical checks would only be made on suspicion of smuggling.

EUROPEAN COMMISSION VICE President Maros Sefcovic has told the Financial Times that the EU could reduce physical customs checks across the Irish Sea to just a few lorries a day if Liz Truss’s government cooperates with post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Sefcovic said that the trade border would be “invisible” under new plans if the UK would give EU officials real-time data on trade movements.

“If the data are downloaded into the system, when the goods are put on the ferry from Britain . . . I believe that we can remotely process them while sailing to Northern Ireland,” he told the Financial Times in an interview.

He added that physical checks would only be made “when there is reasonable suspicion” of illegal trade smuggling, illegal drugs or dangerous toys or poisoned food.

Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market under the Northern Ireland Protocol in order to prevent customs checks across the border, however this requires checks from Britain to Northern Ireland, while the UK government is demanding for no checks.

Sefcovic said that the UK government’s desire for zero customs checks across the Irish Sea is compatible with the EU’s offer of “minimum checks, done in an invisible manner”.

He has stated in the past that attempts from Tories to unilaterally scrap parts of the protocol are “damaging trust and respect with the EU”.

Last week, Sefcovic said the EU had already put forward “far-reaching” proposals to address issues of concern raised by stakeholders in Northern Ireland about the operation of the protocol.

He said the EU proposals would create an express lane for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and reduce sanitary and phytosanitary checks and controls by more than 80%.

“These proposals have, however, never been seriously picked up by my counterparts. In short, they were dismissed without consideration.

“The UK has not even engaged in any meaningful discussions with us since February.

“Instead, we are now faced with the UK Government’s continuing determination to push forward the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, set to disapply core elements of the Protocol.”

However Sefcovic stated he was “encouraged” by indications from Truss that she wanted a negotiated settlement with the EU, believing that the new prime minister could move discussions forward.

The DUP has refused to return to Stormont until the protocol is changed.

Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP leader, told the FT “there is the prospect of renewed negotiations”.

“I think that would require a change of stance from the EU. They need to recognise that if we are to arrive at a solution it requires them to accept, and respect, the integrity of the UK, its internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it.”

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