In Brief

Northern Ireland Protocol friction: who’s to blame?

No one seriously thinks that this is really about British sausages ‘sneaking into Co Donegal’, says The Sunday Telegraph

When the Brexit Minister Lord Frost announced his proposal to reform the Northern Ireland Protocol last week, he observed that most of the “current friction” between Britain and the EU stemmed from this arrangement. “It’s hard to argue with that statement,” said Peter Foster in the FT. Yet it is also hard to see Frost’s proposals as he tried to present them – as “an even-handed, mutually consensual attempt to make the Northern Ireland situation work for both sides”.

Frost’s 28-page “command paper” does not offer “detailed technical solutions to difficult problems”. Rather, it effectively suggests that the Protocol – which leaves Northern Ireland effectively inside the EU single market for goods, to avoid a hard border with the Republic – should be renegotiated. “It is an attempt to wind the clock back to arguments that were lost in 2019,” but that Boris Johnson’s Government “now wants to try to win again”.

The Protocol should be renegotiated, or better still, scrapped, said Daniel Hannan in The Sunday Telegraph. “For six months, Britain has been bending over backwards to make the system work, while the EU gives every impression of relishing our discomfort.”

The UK has spent more than £500m helping businesses adapt. It has given EU officials unprecedented access to its customs systems. “It has repeatedly suggested ways to facilitate the flow of goods while ensuring that uncertified products don’t enter EU territory.” Brussels has responded to every offer “by insisting on the most intrusive checks possible”.

No one seriously thinks that this is really about British sausages “sneaking into Co Donegal”. Around 20% of all the regulatory checks carried out by the EU are done on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain – though the volume of trade is relatively tiny. “No, this is about squeezing the UK.”

The UK has “legitimate concerns” about the Protocol, said Anand Menon and Jill Rutter in The Guardian. It has caused genuine difficulties, both for Northern Ireland’s trade and for its politics. However, the fact remains that this Government signed this treaty less than two years ago. “The problems were both foreseeable and foreseen.” Brexiters, of all people, should have been aware that “the EU is not known for its flexibility”.

Brussels has duly dismissed the idea that the Protocol should be renegotiated, said The Times. And it would “be better to try to make existing arrangements work”, with both sides making “reasonable compromises”. But the clock is ticking. The latest grace period before EU regulations are fully enforced lasts until 30 September. It’s in both sides’ interest to make Brexit work for Northern Ireland.

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