EU to bring new NI protocol measures next week, eyes quick agreement

New proposals are not being presented on a ‘take it or leave it basis’ – Sefcovic

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic speaking to the IIEA: “We have to move away from political rhetoric.”

The European Union expects to finalise work on new and far-reaching proposals for the Northern Ireland protocol by next week, with an agreement possible by the end of December or early next year.

Speaking at a webinar held by the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic insisted the proposals were not being presented on a "take it or leave it basis" but that the EU and the UK needed to leave their comfort zones to find a compromise.

He expressed hope that the UK would "engage constructively" with the proposals on how to resolve issues with the post-Brexit mechanism.

“It is clear there are no quick, easy fix solutions...but I believe we can find practical solutions to ensure that the protocol works well on the ground,” he said.


Mr Sefcovic said that if its proposals were not immediately rejected by the British, “I think we will have very intense talks throughout the rest of October and November”. He said it would be in the “best interest” of both parties to “find a reasonable solution” before the end of the year or by early 2022.

Prevent checks

The protocol is meant to prevent a need for checks on goods crossing the Border between the North and the Republic. Under the terms, Northern Ireland continues to follow EU rules on product standards, meaning checks are needed on certain goods arriving from Britain. The British government wants to remove most of these checks to allow goods to flow more freely than they do now.

Mr Sefcovic said there can be no renegotiation of the protocol and added that threats to trigger Article 16, which allows the suspension of parts of the agreement, are counterproductive. London has cited an increase in North-South trade since Brexit as one of the grounds for triggering Article 16.

Mr Sefcovic said that failing to apply the protocol will not make the current problems disappear. “The protocol is not the problem. On the contrary, it is the only solution.”

He said he held very constructive talks with David Frost, the UK’s Brexit negotiator, over the summer and had recently received information from him about accessing trade flow data.

“Once we have a better overview in what is happening on the Border then of course we can look creatively at what we can do with the checks,” he said.

Mr Frost on Monday told a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference that increased all-island trade and the loss of Irish “landbridge” road freight across Britain to the EU mainland amounted to “trade diversion”, one of the grounds listed in the protocol for suspending it.

“If the diversion is being caused by the way the protocol is operating that is clearly a problem,” said a UK government source after Mr Frost’s comments.

“If goods that previously were freely available in Northern Ireland no longer are because the protocol makes it too difficult, that undermines cross-community support for the protocol.”

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times