The European Union will not accept London’s demands for an alternative arbitrator to resolve post-Brexit trade disputes involving Northern Ireland, Dublin said on Thursday after the EU offered other concessions.
Brussels presented a series of proposals on Wednesday, including reducing customs controls and paperwork on British goods destined for Northern Ireland, in a bid to solve problems caused by the Brexit deal signed last year.
But there was no movement on what Britain says is one of its red lines: the role of the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) as an arbitrator in any post-Brexit dispute involving the province.
“There should be no role for the ECJ anywhere in the UK, including Northern Ireland,” British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News on Thursday, calling it “one of the most important issues.”
But when asked by Britain’s Times Radio if the EU would consider an alternative arbitration system, Ireland’s European Affairs Minister Thomas Byrne said: “No, I don’t think so.”
“It is not that the Court of Justice of the European Communities has any sovereignty over Great Britain or any part of Great Britain.
“It is simply the fact that the Court of Justice of the European Union arbitrates in the single market of the European Union, in which Northern Ireland has been allowed to remain,” he added.
A team of EU negotiators delivered the plans to London on Wednesday, a day after British Brexit Minister David Frost said the current deal, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, should be broken.
“We look forward to working earnestly and intensively with the UK government, in the interest of all communities in Northern Ireland,” said European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic.
– ‘Point’ –
Sections of the pro-UK trade union community in Northern Ireland have rebelled over the protocol’s implementation, which they say drives a wedge between the province and the rest of the UK.
They also fear it will reinforce Republicans’ push for a united Ireland after the 1998 Good Friday peace deal.
Jeffrey Donaldson, head of the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party, said he had had a “useful and honest discussion” with Sefcovic on Thursday.
“I welcomed the change of mind in Brussels with the decision to renegotiate,” Donaldson said in a statement.
“I also explained why the proposals fall short of what is needed. We need a sustainable solution that removes the border from the Irish Sea and restores our place within the UK.”
London previously said it would look at the proposals “seriously and constructively.”
The design of the protocol was a major source of friction in Britain’s lengthy divorce from the EU after it voted to leave the bloc in 2016.
Both sides say they want to preserve peace and stability by avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, which is divided between the EU-member Republic of Ireland and the UK province.
To achieve this, Northern Ireland, divided for decades until 1998 by violence over British rule, was given unique status as a member of both the UK and the EU single market.
This required new checkpoints at ports to prevent goods from England, Scotland and Wales from entering the EU through Ireland, a key source of anger among trade unionists.
To ease friction, the EU published four texts to address complaints of limited drug supplies, overzealous food safety checks and too much paperwork.
Taken together, the solutions would create a “fast track” for the movement of goods from Britain to Northern Ireland, the EU said.
But looming over the talks is Article 16 of the protocol, which grants either party the right to suspend parts of the trade agreement in exceptional circumstances.
Britain has threatened to use that provision in early November if the EU does not redraft the protocol.
jwp / phz / ach