Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (pictured) acted as lead negotiator on Thursday (13 January) for the first time since replacing Lord Frost. The UK and EU are to resume talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol shortly. The foreign secretary is acting as the UK’s lead negotiator for the first time since Lord Frost resigned last month. “There is a deal to be done but it will require a pragmatic approach from the EU,” said Truss. The UK is seeking fundamental changes to the operation and oversight of the protocol, while the EU has offered limited changes aimed at reducing the impact on Northern Ireland businesses, writes John Campbell.
Ahead of the talks, which are being billed as a potential “reset”, Truss said the EU had “a clear responsibility” to fix problems. She added that she would put forward “practical, reasonable solutions… with a view to agreeing a plan for intensive negotiations”.
What is the protocol?
The protocol is the Brexit deal which prevents a hard Irish border by keeping Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market for goods. It was agreed by the EU and the UK government in October 2019. It also creates a new trade border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, something the EU accepts is causing difficulties for businesses. Unionist parties say this ‘Irish Sea border’ undermines Northern Ireland’s position in the UK. The largest unionist party, the DUP, has threatened to withdraw from NI’s devolved government if the protocol is not reformed.
What does the UK want?
The government has said the protocol is “unbalanced” which makes it practically and politically unsustainable. The major practical impact of the protocol is that all commercial goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain need a customs declaration, while food products are subject to additional controls and checks. The UK has proposed an arrangement where the assumption would be that most goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK would be staying there and would not be at risk of crossing the border into Ireland and the wider EU. A simple self-certification process would mean that most goods wouldn’t need to be checked or be subject to additional paperwork. The UK also wants to limit the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in any protocol disputes. Its preferred option is a new governance arrangement in which disputes would ultimately be resolved by an independent arbitrator. However, the government has indicated that it is open to discussing a role for the ECJ, which could draw on other EU agreements.
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