EU told it needs to cave in first as NI opening bid violates Good Friday Agreement

Brexit: Northern Ireland 'annexed' by Protocol claims Habib

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The “sausage war” over chilled meat exports in Northern Ireland could now turn into a full-fledged trade war between the UK and the EU. At the heart of the dispute is the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was agreed by Brussels and London last year as part of the withdrawal agreement. The Protocol deals with a territory that is part of the UK but has to keep an open land border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member.

The Protocol keeps Northern Ireland subject to many EU trade rules, including checks on goods.

However, the arrangement has caused tensions with Northern Ireland’s unionists, who say it amounts to a border in the Irish Sea that weakens ties to the rest of Britain, as well creating shortages.

Brexit minister David Frost issued a new “command paper” that would radically rework the Northern Ireland protocol but the proposal was swiftly rejected by the EU, as leaders believe revisiting the Protocol would threaten the Good Friday Agreement.

The EU insists it won’t renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol, while the UK is adamant that the trading rules the government negotiated with the EU “cannot go on.”

In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, a Government trade adviser, who wishes to remain anonymous, insisted that it is the European bloc who should make the first move, as its opening bid actually violates the Good Friday Agreement.

He explained: “If the EU doesn’t move from its opening bid, it is incredibly difficult to see how there would be any solution.

“Obviously, it is a fundamental principle of the Protocol that Northern Ireland is in the UK’s customs union territory, and that has to mean something.

“If in fact it doesn’t mean anything, then, I think the UK will say ‘it doesn’t leave us any room to have a discussion because technically what you are doing, you are privileging the North South strand of the Good Friday Agreement over the East West strand which is not in compliance with the Good Friday Agreement’.

“I think they may be forced to say that.”

He added: “There will be a trade war if neither party moves off its opening bid.

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“The person who has to give first here, though, is the EU because it precludes the UK’s range of movement in any way.

“Also because the EU’s opening bid actually violates the Good Friday Agreement whereas the UK’s opening bid does not.

“All the UK’s opening bid does is open up the East West strand and it does nothing to damage the North South strand.

“So if your opening bid is damaging the Good Friday Agreement, then you have the obligation to move off first.

“And they don’t have to come off it very far, it is a slight movement which would allow negotiations to take place.”

When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the European Commission said: “As per our usual practice, we do not comment on comments.

“More generally, the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland is the joint solution that the EU found with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Lord David Frost to address the unique challenges for the island of Ireland brought about by the type of Brexit chosen by the British government.

“The Commission has taken note of the statement made by Lord Frost, and the command paper of July 21.

“We confirm our readiness to continue to engage with the United Kingdom, also on the suggestions made in the Command Paper, and to consider any proposals that respect the principles of the Protocol.

“The EU has sought flexible, practical solutions to overcome the difficulties citizens in Northern Ireland are experiencing regarding the implementation of the Protocol – as demonstrated in the package of measures announced by the Commission on June 30.”

“While the EU will not renegotiate the Protocol, we stand ready to address all the issues arising in the practical implementation of the Protocol in a spirit of good faith and cooperation.

“It is essential that we continue constructive discussions in the weeks ahead.”

David Henig, UK director at the European Centre for International Political Economy, claimed it is unlikely the two sides will just walk away from the original agreement.

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He told Euronews: “The UK could, but they’ve threatened to walk away several times before and have not done so.

“And similarly the EU hasn’t actually taken the full legal steps it might have done. So the evidence is that neither side really wants to go as far as it might and do something dramatic.

“Both sides are being cautious about going too far. I think both sides want to win the battle of international public opinion by which I mean the US. They both want to make sure that the US is onside.”

US President Joe Biden, who has Irish roots, has been particularly vocal about the Irish border.

He does not want peace in Northern Ireland to become a “casualty” of Brexit.

Meanwhile, London wants to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with Washington, and is keen on staying in Mr Biden’s good books.

In Northern Ireland, business unions also favour a consensual approach.

Aodhán Connolly, Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said in a statement last week: “Any solution that is not agreed by both sides cannot provide the certainty and stability that retailers and NI consumers need.

“There is a real urgency now to deliver an agreed solution that works for consumers.”

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