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HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 13 October 2021

Media Coverage

Brexit: EU to offer fewer Northern Ireland border checks on British goods
BBC News, John Campbell, 13 October 2021

BBC News reports that the EU is to set out proposals to address the row about trade in Northern Ireland. This comes in response to UK demands that current rules be changed due to the barriers they impose to the sale of chilled meats and other products.

The EU’s proposals are expected to involve reduced checks on goods and medicines. European Commission Vice-President Maros Šefčovič said that the new proposals for the Protocol would be “very far-reaching”. Among the changes are initiatives to solve the regulatory issues which pose a threat to the supply of medicines to Northern Ireland.

The Irish Republic’s Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, said the proposals reflected “months of hard work, careful listening across Northern Ireland and will deliver practical solutions to make the Protocol work better”.

The two sides are expected to clash over the continued application of EU law in Northern Ireland through the European Court of Justice.

This was also reported in The IndependentThe Financial Times and Sky News.

Northern Ireland: Brexit chief Lord Frost submits new Protocol to EU but opens door to ‘positive’ negotiations
I News, Arj Singh, 12 October 2021

I News reports that Brexit Minister Lord Frost has opened the door to negotiations to come to an agreement on Northern Ireland promising to engage with EU proposals “seriously, fully and positively”.

In a key speech in Portugal, the Minister tried to reassure the EU that he was not attempting to ramp up tensions. A few turbulent days had followed Lord Frost’s demand that the European Court of Justice’s oversight in Northern Ireland come to an end.

In response to the expected EU proposal, Lord Frost said “What we hear about (the EU proposals) is interesting, we’ll talk about it even though I fear it may not do the job first round.”

Lord Frost has previously argued that the EU’s interpretation of the arrangements is threatening trade, stability, and peace in Northern Ireland.

The full speech is available here.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

House of Lords Question – 12 October 2021

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Conservative): To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on the delivery of drugs (1) to the NHS, and (2) to patients, of the shortage of HGV drivers in the UK.

Lord Kamall (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care, Conservatives): We are not currently seeing the shortage of Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers in the United Kingdom impact the delivery of medicines nor are we seeing it impact the delivery of flu vaccinations. The majority of deliveries are still being made to schedule with on-time delivery performance currently at 98%. However, the issue has been raised by a growing number of suppliers, including National Health Service trusts.

The number of National Supply Disruption Responses relating to medicine shortages in August 2021 is similar to the level in March 2021. This has remained stable and is unrelated to HGV driver shortages. Whilst no formal assessment has been made, we are reviewing broad trends are obtained through the Department’s freight desk, through organisations such as NHS Supply Chain, industry and NHS trusts. The Government’s Express Freight Service remains available to support suppliers if their existing supply chains are disrupted.

The Government is aware of concerns and are taking steps to support businesses and stakeholders, including streamlining the process for new HGV drivers, increasing the number of driving tests, improved pay, working conditions and diversity.

 

Full Coverage

Brexit: EU to offer fewer Northern Ireland border checks on British goods
BBC News, John Campbell, 13 October 2021

The EU is to set out proposals later to address the row about trade in Northern Ireland.

The UK wants to change the deal struck as part of the Brexit process to allow goods to circulate more freely between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

It says the current rules impose too many barriers to the sale of chilled meats and other products.

The EU’s proposals, which it calls far-reaching, are expected to involve reduced checks on goods and medicines.

At the start of the year, a new post-Brexit arrangement – known as the Northern Ireland Protocol – was introduced to help prevent checks along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

It involves keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods – but this, in turn, creates a new trade border with Great Britain. Unionists say this undermines their place in the UK.

Both sides seems to agree – though to differing degrees – that the protocol is posing some difficulties for people and businesses in Northern Ireland.

These talks, likely to go on for several weeks, are the first step in trying to reach a better arrangement.

‘Careful listening’

European Commission Vice-President Maros Šefčovič said the new proposals for the protocol would be “very far-reaching” and that he hoped they would be seen as such.

The proposals are understood to include a unique deal around agri-food – which includes agriculture, horticulture, and food and drink processing – aimed at sharply reducing the checks on products moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

There will also be an arrangement to allow the continued sale of chilled meats from Great Britain in Northern Ireland; these products were facing a ban.

The EU has also said it is going to change its laws in an attempt to solve regulatory issues which are posing a threat to the supply of medicines to Northern Ireland.

The Irish Republic’s Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, said the proposals reflected “months of hard work, careful listening across Northern Ireland and will deliver practical solutions to make the protocol work better”.

“I hope the UK government is serious about moving on in partnership,” he added.

The EU is offering tweaks to the existing protocol and a relaxation of how it’s implemented.

That’s too little for Lord Frost who has tabled an alternative version which would strip out references to the continued application of EU law in Northern Ireland and eliminate the role of the European Court of Justice.

The problem is that’s too much for the EU to stomach.

The two sides will see if they can bridge the difference during a few weeks of intense negotiations. Which means the next crunch point is likely to be in mid-November.

If things go badly that could lead to the UK triggering a clause which allows each side to unilaterally suspend parts of it in an emergency.

That could lead to retaliation by the EU, potentially including new tariffs on British imports. Something you could describe as a trade war.

The protocol seems to be causing genuine problems for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and within Northern Ireland but the UK government also knows that standing up for the union against the EU is good politics.

On Tuesday, the UK’s Brexit minister Lord Frost proposed plans for an entirely new protocol to replace the existing one.

As part of these plans, the UK government wants to reverse its previous agreement on the oversight role of the European Court of Justice, which is the EU’s highest court.

The agreement states that the ECJ has jurisdiction to rule on matters of EU law in Northern Ireland – so for example, if there was a dispute around complying with applicable EU law, the EU could take the UK to the ECJ.

In a speech to diplomats in Portugal on Tuesday, Lord Frost described his new legal text as “a better way forward”.

He said his proposed text would amend the Northern Ireland Protocol and support the Good Friday Agreement.

“We have a short, but real, opportunity to put in place a new arrangement, to defuse the political crisis that is brewing, both in Northern Ireland and between us,” he said.

However, the EU has repeatedly said the ECJ must have the final say on any matters of EU law in the protocol.

It is expected that the two sides will engage in intense talks during November.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party – Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party – has warned that it may quit Stormont if its demands over the protocol are not met.

He has claimed pressure from unionists had led the EU to table its new proposals.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said on Wednesday that central to any EU proposal was that “Northern Ireland is free from being part of the European single market” and that laws governing Northern Ireland should be made in the UK and not Brussels.

“The deal breaker for us will be has sovereignty been fully restored? Are we fully part of the United Kingdom or are we half in the EU and half out of the United Kingdom when it comes to law making and the adjudication on those laws,” he said.

“That’s how we will judge this.”

Declan Kearney, Sinn Féin Northern Ireland assembly member, said the protocol must work and what was needed now was certainty and stability.

He said there had not been any business leaders in Northern Ireland raising issues about the ECJ during Mr Šefčovič’s recent visit to Northern Ireland.

“This is a red herring. It’s a distraction. What we need to do now is listen very carefully to the proposals coming forward from the European Commission,” he said.
 

Northern Ireland: Brexit chief Lord Frost submits new Protocol to EU but opens door to ‘positive’ negotiations
I News, Arj Singh, 12 October 2021

Boris Johnson’s Brexit chief has opened the door to negotiations to “fix” a key deal on Northern Ireland, promising to engage with EU proposals “seriously, fully and positively”.

Brexit Minister Lord Frost described Brussels plans to reimagine the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol he negotiated in 2019 as “interesting”, while acknowledging they may not form the basis of a solution “on the first round” of talks.

In a key speech in Portugal, the peer also tried to reassure the EU that he was not attempting to ramp up tensions for Tory gain, insisting “there is no electoral dividend in endlessly talking about Brexit”.

It came after a turbulent few days in which EU figures reacted furiously to fresh demands from Lord Frost to strip the oversight of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) from the Protocol.

Ireland accused the peer of deliberately trying to engineer a “breakdown in relations” with a demand he knew the EU could not accept as a pretext for unilaterally suspending the Protocol.

The timing ahead of the EU’s own proposals to be published on Wednesday also rankled EU figures, who believe their own plans to end the so-called “sausage war” by easing border checks on food and medicine are significant and should address many UK concerns.

Addressing the audience in Lisbon, Lord Frost revealed he had submitted to the EU his own legal text for a new Protocol, which would mean goods could move around the UK “more or less freely”, and crucially that would replace the ECJ’s role with “international arbitration”.

But the minister also attempted to strike a more conciliatory tone.

“We are now heading to a crucial few weeks,” he said.

“We await the proposals coming tomorrow from Maroš Šefčovič and the European Commission in response to our ideas.

“To be clear, we will be really ready to discuss them – whatever they say – and we will obviously consider them seriously, fully, and positively.

“But – I repeat – if we are going to get to a solution we must, collectively, deliver significant change.”

Answering questions, Lord Frost later said: “What we hear about (the EU proposals) is interesting, we’ll talk about it even though I fear it may not do the job first round.”

The Protocol is designed to avoid a hard border with Ireland and effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.

The result of this is a trade barrier for products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

But Lord Frost has argued that the EU’s “heavy handed” interpretation of the arrangements is threatening trade, stability and peace in Northern Ireland.
This story has been updated.

 

 

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 13 October 2021

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