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Groundhog Day

EU says there will be no renegotiation of the Protocol, after UK suggests 'significant change'

The UK government has said that current arrangements “cannot go on”, despite progress made last month on some big issues.

LAST UPDATE | 21 Jul 2021

UK BREXIT MINISTER David Frost and Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis have issued a joint statement stating that the Northern Ireland protocol, agreed between the EU and UK after four years of negotiation, be renegotiated.

Brexit minister Frost told the House of Lords that the proposals will require a “significant change” of the Protocol, which is the set of post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland.

“We cannot go on as we are,” he said today.

The Irish Government and the EU have come out to say that the Protocol will not be renegotiated, and said the joint committee negotiations needed to continue, which are part of the Brexit trade deal.

European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič said: “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.”

Ireland’s European Affairs Minister of State Thomas Byrne told Sky News that the EU would be “flexible, creative and constructive”, and said there’s “enough leeway” within the treaties and protocol to “move forward” post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland.

What did the UK government say

In a statement to the House of Commons, Lewis said that there has been significant disruption as companies change supply change, as well as “societal disruption” at Easter.

“There has been significant disruption to East-West trade, a significant increase in trade on the island of Ireland as companies change supply chains and considerable disruption to everyday lives.”

He said that this warranted the UK Government’s use of Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol – a nuclear option in the EU trade deal that cuts all arrangements. But said that although this was considered, it wouldn’t be used yet.

He suggested a “standstill period” on ongoing legal actions and processes, and continuing the operation of grace periods. 

Lewis namechecked difficulties going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland with medicines, pets, on the movements of live animals, plants, and seeds. The EU announced in June that it is working on changing its laws to continue the trade of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland once that grace period ends.

The Northern Ireland Executive has estimated that from January to March this year,
the volume of checks represented approximately 20% of the EU total, and more
than any single EU Member State – despite Northern Ireland’s population of 1.8
million people being 0.5% of that of the EU as a whole.

Stephen Farry, Alliance Party MP, said that this proposal created more instability and uncertainty for Northern Ireland. Members of the DUP accused those criticising the announcement of representing the EU above their constituents; while SDLP MP Claire Hanna said that renegotiating the protocol would hamper businesses from prospering.

An ‘honesty box’ trading arrangement

The Financial Times reported today that Frost’s strategy seeks to eliminate most checks on goods travelling between Britain and Northern Ireland.

In a bid to deliver on that aim, the FT said Frost will push for an “honesty box” approach to allow companies in Great Britain that declare their goods are only destined for sale and use in Northern Ireland to skip border checks.

brexit PA Images PA Images

The document published by the UK Government, entitled ‘Northern Ireland protocol – next steps’, suggests creating “a full dual regulatory regime in Northern Ireland”.

Goods, whether manufactured or SPS goods, should be able to circulate within Northern Ireland if they meet either UK or EU rules, as determined by UK or EU regulators, and should be labelled accordingly.

“Of course, goods destined or produced for the EU Single Market would need to meet EU rules in full.”

The document also recognises “the significant efforts [by the EU] that have been put into considering responses to some specific issues, such as livestock movements, the movement of assistance dogs, and aspects of the issues we have faced on medicines”.

An announcement on these issues was made last month as part of the EU-UK Joint Committee on the Brexit trading agreements and their implementation.

The document also calls for the removal of the European Court of Justice and other EU institutions to enforce the provisions of the Protocol. Frost’s document calls this “most unusual”, and says that the same arrangements in the trade agreement should be in place for the protocol. 

“The UK refused to accept this in the negotiations on the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and only agreed to it in the Protocol because of the very specific circumstances of that negotiation.”

The document also states: “This is why the current situation is not sustainable. The way the Protocol is working needs to change. That requires us to address the significant issues that the Protocol has caused, and to do so in a fundamental way.”

Fine Gael TD and spokesperson on European Affairs Neale Richmond said that Brexit was causing the problems in Northern Ireland, and not the protocol.

“This change of direction outlined by the British Government is both simplistic and disappointing,” he said.

“While the full paper will need to be examined more closely, we must remember that the Protocol was jointly negotiated by this British Government and the EU.

It is not a foreign construct, it is jointly owned by both and must be jointly implemented by both. There can be no room for unilateral actions or renegotiation of the Protocol.


The Protocol was negotiated as part of Britain’s divorce from Brussels to avoid a hard border with Ireland, by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.

But the introduction of checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea has angered Unionists, who have protested against it in recent months, arguing the Brexit arrangement has weakened Northern Ireland’s links with the rest of the UK.

The UK Government has argued that the checks and added red tape have caused trade between Britain and Northern Ireland to decline.

Ireland and the US listening closely

Separately, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters it would be “watching” events in the UK.

He added: “As we’ve consistently said over time, we do support a close relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and we encourage them to negotiate within the existing mechanisms when differences do arise.

“We’ve consistently said that we welcome the provisions in both the trade and cooperation agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol between the UK and the European Union, which, importantly, help to protect the gains of the Belfast and Good Friday Agreement.”

embedded255438753 Frost is due to give a statement to peers on his proposed solutions for the Protocol

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson used a phone call yesterday with his Dublin counterpart Micheál Martin to urge “pragmatism” in order to mend the issues being created by the post-Brexit terms.

The Taoiseach told Johnson that the proposals set to be announced in Westminster would be “carefully considered”, according to the Irish Government.

Martin also stressed that there was already a EU-UK framework for dealing with issues related to the Protocol.

The men had been due to meet in person in the UK, until Johnson was told to self-isolate after coming into close contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for coronavirus at the weekend.

Frost – who negotiated the UK’s split from the EU – told MPs on Monday that the UK Government was “keeping all options on the table” to resolve issues with the Protocol, including triggering Article 16, which would allow the unilateral overruling of the agreement.

With reporting from the Press Association.

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