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Monday, October 18, 2021

Tory MPs divided over EU’s new Northern Ireland Protocol offer

European Union proposals to fix the Northern Ireland Protocol have divided opinion among Conservative MPs, as the bloc prepares to set out plans that will fall short of the UK’s demands on Wednesday. 

The European Commission is set this evening to publish a set of “far reaching” plans to dramatically cut the number of border checks on British goods, animals and plants sent to Northern Ireland.

The UK has called for an entirely new protocol to prevent the checks, which are required under the 2019 treaty, from causing continued disruption to trade with the British mainland. 

However, Brussels will refuse to offer a wholesale renegotiation of the protocol and rule out Lord Frost’s call to replace the European Court of Justice (ECJ) with international arbitration panels modelled on the Brexit trade deal. 

An EU official confirmed there would be no mention of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in today’s paper, which is expected to kick-start intense negotiations on Thursday in London.

Instead, the EU will present plans which have been likened to the “maximum facilitation” or “max-fac” strategy previously called for by Brexiteers in 2019, which envisaged technological solutions to minimise the need for physical checks at the Irish border.

In return, it will ask for real-time access to UK trade databases in order to police which products cross into the Republic of Ireland, the EU’s external border.

Reacting to the proposals this morning, several hardline Brexiteers warned that they did not regard them “anywhere near sufficient” and urged Lord Frost to remain firm and carry out his threat to trigger Article 16 of the protocol if Brussels did not cave. 

The clause would unilaterally suspend parts of the treaty and risk a trade war with the EU but Brexiteers insisted the issue was a matter of sovereignty. 

But others greeted the proposals with cautious optimism, including those behind the max-fac proposals published two years ago. 

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