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Šefčovič puts forward solutions on protocol, but regrets that ‘ideology prevails’


Following yesterday’s (9 June) meetings on the Withdrawal and Trade and Co-operation Agreements, European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič spoke of the current impasse with the UK and the obvious frustration in finding workable solutions to the difficulties around the implementation of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol.

Šefčovič said that he was surprised with the first batch of unilateral actions which were met with additional flexibilities. He said that the EU was now at a crossroads and that patience was wearing very thin. The EU is now considering all options including arbitration and cross retaliation, but emphasized that he would prefer to resolve the situation amicably.

One solution the EU has offered, which would remove around 80% of cross-border checks, would be to agree to what is known as a “Swiss-style SPS” agreement. Šefčovič said that this could be agreed to in a couple of weeks, but Lord Frost has rejected this and has been arguing instead for an equivalence agreement.

‘An ideology prevails’

Šefčovič said: “I’m kind of struck that an ideology prevails over [a solution] that could be good and important for the people of Northern Ireland.” He went on to explain that ‘equivalence’ wouldn’t remove most checks, or all of the current frictions experienced. Lord Frost has taken a hard line on this issue saying that the UK needs regulatory autonomy to agree new trade deals. Again, the EU has been flexible and said that it is willing to offer the UK temporary alignment until any trade deal that would require regulatory changes emerges, thereby allowing the UK more time to develop infrastructure and adapt to the new GB to NI requirements. He said: “We are offering something which is tangible, credible, easy to do, and which could be accomplished very quickly.”

Šefčovič also spoke about his joint outreach to Northern Irish business stakeholders with Lord Frost. He said that they see the opportunity in the protocol and that it gives the region a unique opportunity and advantage. Invest NI has seen a surge of interest and Šefčovič said he thought that by this stage they would be organizing trade delegations to Northern Ireland “to develop the distribution, perhaps supply chains and simply really bring new growth jobs and new opportunities to Northern Ireland.”

He said that the message from business people was very clear, they want the politicians to fix this problem, to solve it. Šefčovič said he totally agreed with them.