European Union proposes ‘different model' to address NI Protocol disruption
European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic has said EU proposals to change the Northern Ireland Protocol are a "direct and genuine" response to concerns raised.
Mr Sefcovic was unveiling a series of measures aimed at addressing issues around customs paperwork and the movement of agri-food goods and medicines between Britain and Northern Ireland.
He said: "We have listened to, engaged with and heard Northern Irish stakeholders, from political leaders to businesses and a cross-section of civic society.
"Our proposed solutions are a direct and genuine response to concerns they had raised."
Maros Sefcovic said the EU was proposing an "alternative model" for the protocol.
He said: "We have put a lot of hard work into this package. We have explored every possible angle of the protocol and, at times, went beyond current EU law.
"In effect, we are proposing an alternative model for implementation of the protocol.
"One the one hand the flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be facilitated for goods that are to stay in Northern Ireland.
"On the other, robust safeguards and monitoring mechanisms should be put in place to make sure that they stay in Northern Ireland."
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said no-one should be under "any illusions" about the importance of keeping all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement in place.
He said he had made it clear to Boris Johnson and other ministers in the UK Government of the importance.
But Mr Martin said there had been "many ups and downs and there was many, sort of, going to the brink and so on, and eventually the deal got done".
He said the EU proposals were "the obvious way forward and the obvious way out of the issues".
Mr Martin added that the European Commission had "demonstrated imagination, innovation, and also a listening ear to the people who matter, the people in Northern Ireland who are on the ground dealing with these issues".
He said: "(In) my last meeting with the British Government, they wanted to give this... they said to me they wanted to give it one final shot."
The EU proposals to address practical difficulties around the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol cover four specific areas, with a paper dedicated to each.
They are agri-food goods, customs, movement of medicines and engagement with Northern Ireland stakeholders.
Combined, the EU claims the proposals amount to a “different model” for operating the post-Brexit trade arrangements.
Here is what Brussels is proposing:
The EU is offering what it describes as a “bespoke Northern Ireland-specific solution” on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules.
It would see an 80% reduction in spot checks that would have been required on retail goods arriving in Northern Ireland if the original protocol was implemented in full.
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The requirement to submit documentary information online ahead of shipping the goods will remain, but the EU said it envisages an 80% reduction in both identity checks on lorries arriving at ports and the more intensive physical inspections of their contents.
The EU is also proposing a significant reduction in certification requirements on multi-product consignments.
Under the protocol, lorries bringing agri-food products into the region are required to have vet-approved export-health certificates for each different product line on the vehicle.
A grace period exemption means this requirement has yet to be applied.
The EU is proposing that instead of certificates for all products, which could potentially amount to 100-plus per lorry, each vehicle would instead only need one all-encompassing certificate.
This measure would cover retail SPS goods bound for use by consumers in Northern Ireland.
The European Commission is also proposing relaxing laws that would have seen some “high risk” GB produce, such as chilled meats, being banned from export into Northern Ireland.
Again this prohibition has yet to come into effect as it is covered by an ongoing period.
The EU said it will allow the movement of these products in the long term if the UK can demonstrate there is an issue sourcing supplies from within Northern Ireland.
That would allow the continued import of British produce such as Cumberland sausages.
Added certification requirements would be applied on certain high-risk produce entering Northern Ireland.
The EU proposals on SPS goods apply to products that originate in Great Britain.
In return for the concessions on agri-food rules, the EU is asking for added safeguards to ensure products remain within Northern Ireland and do not end up in the Irish Republic.
Those include labelling, so certain items are clearly identified as being for sale in UK/NI only.
The bloc says the light-touch arrangement will only work if the UK follows through with unfulfilled commitments to build new border control posts in Northern Ireland and give the EU real-time access to trade-flow data.
The EU wants to be able to monitor each stage of the Irish Sea supply chain to mitigate the risk of smuggling into its internal market.
The commission also wants clauses included that would enable it to review the effectiveness of the light-touch model and have the ability to re-introduce more rigorous arrangements if it felt they were required.
The various grace periods that have delayed full implementation of the protocol mean Northern Ireland is currently operating with reduced levels of Brexit checks.
The EU claims its proposals would mean a further cut to bureaucracy required under the grace periods.
The movement of live animals is not included in the new proposals outlined by the EU.
The requirement for pets travelling from GB to NI to be microchipped and have a rabies vaccine – with the information captured in a pet passport or official health certification – is also not addressed in the new proposals.
The EU has said the pet passport stipulation could only be dropped if the UK was to agree to “full and dynamic” alignment with EU SPS rules.
The EU says its proposals on customs will halve the volume of paperwork needed on goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland.
This will be achieved by expanding the number of businesses and products covered by trusted trader arrangements and a concept that differentiates between goods destined for Northern Ireland and those “at risk” of onward transportation into the Irish Republic, or elsewhere in the EU.
Those products deemed “not at risk” would not be subject to customs duties.
The arrangements were originally only envisaged for NI-based manufacturers with a low turnover.
Under the EU proposals they will be extended to include manufacturers with higher turnovers and GB suppliers.
Another practical consequence will mean companies dealing in NI-destined products will only need to submit basic customs information, such as a copy of an invoice, rather than comprehensive EU customs code data sets that would otherwise have been required.
The EU says the combination of the SPS and customs proposals will effectively create an “express lane” to help facilitate the movements of GB goods whose end destination is Northern Ireland.
The EU intends to pass legislation that will enable trade of medicines between GB and NI to continue.
Under the protocol, this supply chain would have been severely disrupted when an ongoing grace period lapses, as Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK are in different regulatory zones for pharmaceuticals.
The EU law change would allow GB-based pharma suppliers to maintain their current regulatory arrangements.
It would mean companies in GB could continue to act as a hub for the supply of generic medicines to NI, without the need to establish bases in the region.
The EU has said the medicines supply chain issue is not confined to Northern Ireland and applies to other small markets, including the Irish Republic, Malta and Cyprus.
The steps being suggested would guarantee pharmaceutical supply chains to all of those markets.
The EU wants to improve information exchange between the European Commission and stakeholders in Northern Ireland, such as politicians, business representatives and other members of civic society, to ensure the application of the protocol is more transparent.
This would see the establishment of structured groups to provide a forum for discussion on key issues related to the implementation of the protocol.
It would also see stakeholders invited to some meetings of the joint UK/EU committees that oversee the protocol.
The EU says it also wants to create a stronger link between the Stormont Assembly and the EU/UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly.
It also intends to create a website to show how EU legislation is applicable in Northern Ireland.