Britain and the European Union are at odds over the government’s demands to rewrite the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland and strip EU courts of their right to monitor the deal.
In a series of proposals published yesterday, ministers said Brussels should allow products that do not meet European standards to continue to be sold in the province and reduce the number of controls on products shipped through the Irish Sea.
Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, also insisted that the EU must renounce its right to bring disputes over the Northern Ireland protocol to the European Court of Justice.
It came as Marks & Spencer president Archie Norman said there would likely be “shelf gaps” in Northern Ireland once the light export rules end in September.
“This Christmas, I can already tell you that we have to make decisions to remove the product from the Northern Ireland list because it is simply not worth the risk of trying to get it,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program. we made that decision. We are waiting to see how serious it will be, but if it looks anything like southern Ireland [the Republic of Ireland], and by the time it is established, it will be very, very serious to customers. “
He added: ‘You run the risk of being incendiary to the public in Northern Ireland because you cannot think of a more visible demonstration of how you are not a complete part of the UK that you cannot get your favorite Christmas products. You can’t buy M&S chicken, free-range eggs, sandwiches. “
Lord Frost did not warn that the UK would activate article 16 of the protocol, despite stating that the conditions to activate it had been met. Under the agreement, Article 16 – suspend all or part of the treaty – can be activated unilaterally if it is causing significant damage to the economy and society.
Frost said the UK preferred to try to negotiate changes to the protocol to address the government’s concerns, but did not rule out using the mechanism if necessary.
In an article in The Times today says “the ball is now in the EU court” and urges Brussels to “think carefully” about the proposals.
“A great prize is on offer here: stability in Northern Ireland and a better relationship between us as Europeans,” he writes. “Get away from established positions and be willing to compromise.”
The UK side described its proposals as constructive, but privately admitted that it would require renegotiating the protocol that was only agreed with the EU 18 months ago. This was rejected by the vice president of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, who said that “respecting international legal obligations is of the utmost importance.”
“We will continue to work with the UK (and) 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 accept a renegotiation. Joint action in the joint bodies established by the withdrawal agreement will be of utmost importance in the coming months. We must prioritize stability and predictability in Northern Ireland. “
This was shared by Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin, who said: “We have made it very clear to the UK government that there are mechanisms within the withdrawal agreement for issues to be resolved within the functioning of the protocol.”
The ministers said they wanted to have “productive” talks with the EU on the changes. Describing the proposals in the Lords, Frost said the government was suggesting a stalemate in ongoing disputes over protocol to allow time for talks to take place. But he warned that even with the current waivers, the situation was untenable and that Britain would be within its right to unilaterally rescind elements of the deal.