Lord Frost says negotiations will happen 'soon' with EU
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The Northern Ireland protocol has caused headaches for the UK and the European Union (EU) alike. Both have agreed it is no longer effective, but neither side wants to make serious concessions to the other. As the EU sets out its new plans for UK trade today, there’s one compromise both sides could be forced to make over the European Court of Justice (ECJ), however.
In a bid to relieve some post-Brexit trade tensions with the UK, the EU is expected to offer to remove some customs checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
These cuts should ensure the easy flow of goods, such as animal products and medicines, between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
But the EU has said it won’t agree to scrap the controversial oversight the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has in Northern Ireland – something the UK disagrees on.
So how will negotiators solve this so-called red line? One solution used by Switzerland has been put forward.
Under the current protocol, Northern Ireland remained in the EU customs union and its single market.
This was done to avoid a hard customs border on the island of Ireland.
Both the EU and UK have admitted there are serious problems with the protocol which need to be addressed – a key issue is the ECJ’s continued oversight in Northern Ireland.
The UK’s Brexit Minister, Lord Frost, has repeatedly called for the EU to change its position on the role the ECJ has in Northern Ireland.
The UK Government has said as long as this continues, the protocol will never survive, but the EU seems reluctant to back down.
BBC’s Europe Editor Katya Adler tweeted: “In Brussels I’m told not to expect the EU to engage tomorrow on Lord Frost’s request to scrap the oversight role the ECJ – European Court of Justice – has in the Protocol. EU figures describe this as a red line.”
She added: “The ECJ is ultimate authority when comes to implementing EU law so EU says its removal from Protocol is a red line.”
But Ms Adler did suggest a compromise both sides may have to make to resolve this key point of contention.
Ms Adler said: “A compromise solution down the line could be à la Switzerland’s relationship with EU where there is another layer of oversight before the ECJ, thereby putting it at a distance.”
But even if the EU proposed this there is no guarantee that the UK’s Government would agree.
Ms Adler said: “Things have potential to get a lot messier but for now both EU and Lord Frost say they’re open for discussion.”
So far the UK has made it clear they find the current situation unacceptable.
Lord Frost in a speech on October 12 again threatened the EU that the UK was willing to invoke Article16 to ditch parts of the agreement if they weren’t working.
Lord Frost said: “We would not go down this route gratuitously or with any particular pleasure but it is our fundamental responsibility to safeguard peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and that is why we cannot rest until this situation is addressed.”
Why does the UK want to see the ECJ part of the protocol scrapped?
The protocol states that the ECJ has jurisdiction to rule on matters of EU law in Northern Ireland.
This means if there was a disagreement around applicable EU law then the EU could take the UK to the ECJ.
This means the ECJ would rule on whether the UK was in breach of its obligations under the terms of the protocol.
This would force the UK to be subject to court proceedings in the same way as an EU member state.
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