The UK and EU have been in talks over the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol for some time now, and it appears that a step towards a potential breakthrough may have been made. According to a recent report from The Times, the EU has accepted a plan that would avoid routine checks on goods entering Northern Ireland. However, a representative from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) has stated that the newspaper's claim of a deal being reached does not accurately reflect the current state of the talks. The FCDO has said that the officials are engaged in "intensive scoping talks" with Brussels and have declined to pre-empt the discussions.
Free-flowing vehicles between Ireland and Northern Ireland on M1..
The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed by the UK and EU in 2019 as a solution to the impasse over securing a Brexit withdrawal agreement. The aim of the protocol was to keep the Irish land border free-flowing, which was achieved by moving regulatory and customs checks to the Irish Sea. This has resulted in economic barriers on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
According to The Times, the new customs deal is largely based on the UK government's proposals for a red and green lanes system. The green lane would be for goods from Great Britain that are staying in Northern Ireland, while the red lane would be used to check and control products going on to the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU. A separate agreement would be negotiated for exports of meat and live animals to Northern Ireland, with the UK agreeing to maintain EU veterinary standards for goods destined for the province.
The Times also reported that the EU has made concessions regarding the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which has been a key sticking point in UK-EU negotiations. The EU has now recognized that the ECJ could only rule on Northern Ireland issues if a case was referred by courts in the region. The FCDO has stated that their priority is to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and preserve political stability in Northern Ireland and the UK internal market. They are engaged in intensive scoping talks with the EU to find solutions to the issues that have arisen with the protocol.
The Prime Minister's spokesman has also suggested that no deal has been reached, and that "intensive scoping" is ongoing. The Times reported that while the customs element of the deal may have been "finalized," the role of the ECJ and the details of the veterinary arrangements have not yet been determined. Both the UK and EU are eager to reach a final agreement on the contentious trading arrangements before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland in April.