EU 'unwilling' to resolve Northern Ireland issue says MP
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Under the plan, the UK and Brussels could agree an “equivalence” regime for animal and food health standards in order to cut burdensome red tape on exports to the region. Details emerged after showdown talks were held between Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic over the recent tensions in Northern Ireland. There are concerns the Brexit deal’s border plan could fail unless a quick fix is negotiated with grace periods from Brussels red tape set to expire soon.
To keep the Irish border open, the area effectively remains part of the EU’s single market and some checks are now made on some products arriving from the rest of the UK.
But the introduction of new customs checks in the Irish Sea has sparked an outcry of Unionist fury since the Northern Ireland Protocol entered into force on New Year’s Day.
To ease some of these controls, both sides could agree a bilateral veterinary agreement to eliminate the most burdensome animal and plant health checks.
It is understood work is already underway at a technical level on such a pact, which would see both sides adopt “equivalent” food safety standards.
British officials have already ruled out a Swiss-style agreement that would see Britain forced to dynamically align to the EU’s rulebook.
Instead, they are pondering a similar arrangement New Zealand has with the bloc, which recognises standards are equivalent but doesn’t require further alignment to them.
It would mean just one percent of UK exports to the bloc, including Northern Ireland, would require special checks upon arrival.
Currently around 30 percent of shipments are subject to the so-called SPS controls.
Mr Sefcovic, who is the lead on EU-UK relations for the Commission, has suggested the bloc is ready to hold talks to facilitate such an arrangement.
He told Irish broadcaster RTE: “We would be ready to discuss the issue with our UK partners.
“What are their ideas and what can we do to find a solution?
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“We should get our experts together and check what we can do, to find the ways towards SPS cooperation, and to see if we can find a solution.”
Mr Sefcovic and Mr Gove last night issued a joint statement declaring the UK and EU’s “full commitment” to the “proper implementation of the protocol”.
They agreed “joint action” was needed to make the border plan work amid growing Unionist frustrations with it.
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But the pair failed to reach an agreement on potential solutions for minimising trade disruptions and tensions in Northern Ireland.
Lord Frost, the Prime Minister’s chief Brexit negotiator, is set to take over from Mr Gove as the UK’s representative on the Joint Committee in March.
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