Officials in the United Kingdom are becoming increasingly frustrated with Brussels’ demands on the role of the European Court of Justice in the Brexit negotiations.
Lord David Frost, the Brexit minister, warned the European Union to move forward in negotiations over Northern Ireland’s trading arrangements on Monday, or Britain might unilaterally suspend the so-called “protocol.”
The United Kingdom has requested “major and significant change” in areas like movement on goods into Northern Ireland, products standards, governance mechanisms, and a treaty structure that is not overseen by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
EU authorities, according to EU expert Mujtaba Rahman, are clearly rejecting the UK’s wishes. The ECJ isn’t even a redline, a top EU official informed him, “it’s like the weather – a constant, a permanent.”
In response to Mr Rahman’s remarks, a senior UK official told him, “We need them to understand they don’t get to a stable and cooperative relationship with us until they have sorted this thing with the ECJ out.”
In order to maintain an open land border with EU member state Ireland, Britain decided to leave some EU rules in place in Northern Ireland and allow checks on goods arriving from elsewhere in the UK under the protocol.
Lord Frost’s EU counterpart, Maros Sefcovic, dismissed the idea of renegotiating the deal on Friday. The UK Brexit minister has warned of “cold mistrust” in relations with the EU if they do not move.
Lord Frost mentioned the possibility of invoking the protocol’s “Article 16,” which allows either party to opt-out of its obligations if they are proven to be unreasonably damaging.
“They would be making a significant mistake if they thought that we were not ready to use Article 16 safeguards, if that were to be the only apparent way forward to deal with the situation in front of us,” he said at the House of Lords.
“If we are to avoid this situation, there needs to be a real negotiation between us and the EU.”
Last week, the United Kingdom announced plans to extend post-Brexit grace periods on some goods imports to Northern Ireland, allowing London and Brussels more time to discuss trade with the province. Lord Frost stated that there must be room for discussions.
“I don’t, in fact, take Commissioner Sefcovic’s words as a dismissal of our position, I take them as acknowledgement of it,” Frost remarked.
“But I also take it as a fairly clear indication that there is more to be done. So I do urge the EU to think again.”
In an effort to defuse tensions, the European Commission is scheduled to outline ideas by the end of September that would make it easier to transit products from the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland. According to EU diplomats, the Commission’s new plans, which include increased political and other participation in Northern Ireland, will be unveiled this month.
Possible remedies would revolve around making existing checks less onerous and reducing the quantity of paperwork required, said one EU diplomat familiar with the Brexit situation, adding that the Commission may propose legal amendments on the 27-nation side to allow for more leniency toward Britain.
According to a second diplomat, the new package is set to go beyond previous Commission ideas, which included passage for guiding dogs, simplified livestock tagging, and better pharmaceutical circulation.
On Wednesday, national ambassadors to the EU will discuss the proposals, followed by a conference of national ministers in charge of European affairs on September 21. The extension of grace periods on additional checks and trade restrictions that the EU believes necessary to defend its 450 million-strong single market beyond September has created some breathing room for negotiations.
Frost becoming frustrated, warning the EU, “Article 16” will be triggered if there’s no movement on the Protocol.