The EU will present a package of measures on Wednesday to reduce bureaucracy in connection with the controversial trade agreement for Northern Ireland after Brexit.
The European Commission’s proposals come in response to British calls for a radical revision of what is known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was agreed to prevent a hard border from returning to the island of Ireland.
EU officials briefed on the document said the measures could cut the number of customs and administrative controls at the new border with the Irish Sea by up to half. The measures will be published in full later on Wednesday.
The Commission hopes the proposals, which one official has described as “far-reaching”, will dispel the confrontation over the post-Brexit trade agreements for Northern Ireland, which have kept UK-EU relations tenacious since they came into force in January.
However, the UK government has warned that the protocol is “unsustainable” as the level of border controls hampers trade between the UK and Northern Ireland and creates distortions in the UK internal market. Under the terms of the protocol, all goods traveling from the UK to Northern Ireland must comply with EU customs regulations.
Alongside less friction at the border, the UK has called for EU supreme court oversight to be removed from the deal – a request that is unlikely to be covered in Wednesday’s newspaper.
On Tuesday, UK Brexit Minister Lord David Frost warned that the EU would make a “historic misjudgment” if it did not address the question of the role of the European Court of Justice in regulating trade in Northern Ireland after Brexit.
The United Kingdom, which had agreed to the role of the ECJ when the protocol was signed in January 2020, now describes this as an unacceptable interference with the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.
The EU has instead argued that the focus should be on reducing frictional losses for businesses in order to make the protocol work better and give Northern Irish businesses privileged access to the EU’s internal market.
Mairead McGuinness, Ireland’s European Commissioner for Financial Services, said ahead of the new proposals that they would provide answers to “the real practical problems” facing businesses.
EU officials added that data is central to reducing controls as companies that can demonstrate that their products are not intended for the Republic of Ireland operate with greatly reduced paperwork.
Northern Irish trade groups, closely consulted by the European Commission and providing a list of issues they wished to address, welcomed early reports on the revelations awaited by the EU.
Aodhán Connolly, convener of the Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group, said she appeared to be complying with many of her demands. “Much of what comes out tonight is very close to what the NI Business Brexit Working Group has called for,” he said on Twitter.
Conservative party leader Oliver Dowden also said the early reports on the European Commission’s proposals were “welcome” but added that it was important that the protocol be “radically changed”. “We’ll look at them and really deal with them,” he told Sky News.
Dowden also reiterated Downing Street’s request that Frost’s request to remove the ECJ from the Northern Ireland Protocol was “not a deal breaker”.
However, Downing Street said this remained a “key” UK request, raising the question of whether the negotiations can come to a successful conclusion as the EU side is determined not to renegotiate the basic legal principles of the protocol.
Lord Gavin Barwell, former Chief of Staff of Theresa May, condemned Lord Frost’s call for a complete revision of the NI Protocol. “The absolute state of David Frost, devastating the deal he negotiated and hailed as a triumph,” he tweeted.
Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to Boris Johnson, said the prime minister “never had a Scoobydoo, which is what the deal he signed meant”.