Northern Ireland protocol ‘not the problem’ says EU ambassador
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EU vice president Maroš Šefčovič is expected to hold talks with Lord Frost early next week to resolve a row over grace periods for post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland. The arrangement under the Northern Ireland Protocol has kept Northern Ireland in the EU single market and customs union despite the UK’s departure from the bloc, leading to checks on certain goods coming from the rest of the UK.
But the decision has led to tensions from Unionist politicians at Stormont who say the Protocol, implemented as part of the Withdrawal Agreement, creates a border in the Irish Sea.
Mr Šefčovič will also hold talks with the Executive Office Committee on Monday for an “extraordinary meeting” to discuss the Protocol and this publication understands he will also talk with Lord Frost.
Brussels is poised to grant a requested three-month extension request by the UK Government to the grace period on chilled meats and other animal-based products, which expires on June 30, to September 30.
However, this is on the understanding UK ministers would ensure the single market was protected in Northern Ireland, ensure that safety standards are not compromised by aligning to EU SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) rules and agree to work “cooperatively” with Brussels to find a solution to the tense row.
Mr Šefčovič is expected to present Brexit minister Lord Frost, with an approval along with the three “take it or leave it” style conditions attached to it after EU member state diplomats informally agreed to the move on Wednesday.
A Brussels source said the “final conditional approval” was “very close” but slightly delayed due to some “technical workarounds” with the Protocol.
They added: “We are really close, just a small tiny step to go through.
“When the approval is officially announced, however, we would expect the UK to approve it straight away.
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“You could say it’s as simple as take it or leave when the approval is granted.”
Express.co.uk understands the technical workarounds require changes to the legally binding international treaty where the Protocol is enshrined in law.
As the grace periods were only agreed upon for six months under the Withdrawal Agreement, a unilateral declaration from both sides would need to be made for any changes to take effect.
Despite the granting of the grace period, however, tensions are running high within DUP ranks as incoming leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson vowed to “right the wrong” of the Protocol.
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The Lagan Valley MP, who is also leader of the party in the House of Commons, said the removal of the post-Brexit barriers on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would be one of his key priorities in the role.
His pledge came after his leadership bid secured the majority backing of the DUP’s electoral college of party MPs and MLAs.
Speaking this afternoon, Sir Jeffrey added: “Northern Ireland is given the right under the Act of Union to trade freely with the rest of our own country and all that we ask is for that right to be restored, that we can trade freely with the rest of the United Kingdom and continue to trade with our neighbours,” he said.
“And there must be a solution to that. We need to find that solution.”
The UK Government today expressed a more positive tone this afternoon over the Protocol.
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