Britain’s cabinet minister in charge of relations with the European Union, David Frost, walks outside Downing Street in London – Copyright Credit: Reuters
London has reiterated its demand for an end to the European Court of Justice’s role in resolving post-Brexit disputes over Northern Ireland.
British Brexit Secretary Lord David Frost insisted in front of the parliamentary EU Scrutiny Committee that the UK wants to find “balanced” arbitration mechanisms.
“We cannot have the courts of one side settling disputes between us,” he said, speaking ahead of a new round of talks between London and Brussels on Tuesday.
The Northern Ireland Protocol negotiated between London and Brussels plans for any disagreement between them to be settled by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). London now rejects that and wants international arbitration instead.
It also demands a complete overhaul of the treaty, decrying it as absurd. As part of the Protocol, Northern Ireland has so far remained in the EU’s Customs Union in order to avoid the creation of a physical border between the British province and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.
This was seen as absolutely crucial to prevent a flare-up of tension that could endanger the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that put an end to more than three decades of deadly violence on the island.
The Protocol effectively creates a de-facto border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain as checks must be carried out on certain goods travelling between the two UK territories.
Brussels has categorically rejected reopening the Protocol for negotiations and insisted changes must be found within the framework of the document.
To alleviate tensions and supply chains issues in the UK and Northern Ireland, the EU has proposed a significant reduction on checks on food, plants and animals entering Northern Ireland by as much as 80% and to cut paperwork for transport companies in half. This would apply to goods destined for Northern Ireland consumption only and that would therefore not enter the EU single market.
Britain has welcomed those proposals.
Talks are to resume in London on Tuesday with Frost scheduled to meet with his EU counterpart, Maros Sefcovic on Friday.
Both sides have stressed the need to find a solution quickly.
Sefcovic has said the EU aims for the talks to be wrapped up before the end of the year while London has warned several times that it could trigger Article 16 — which allows for either side to unilaterally pull out of the Protocol if they believe the other to be in serious breach of the Treaty.
Such a move would likely prompt the EU to launch legal action against London that could potentially result in economic sanctions that could spiral into a trade war. Any such battle is likely to hurt the economy of the U.K. more than the much bigger EU.