Rishi Sunak to announce ‘fundamental’ changes to Northern Ireland’s trade rules

Rishi Sunak will claim on Monday that he has negotiated “fundamental” changes to Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade regime as he seeks to end a bitter dispute with Brussels that has overshadowed the UK’s ties with the EU.

Britain’s prime minister and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, are expected to seal the deal to reform the so-called Northern Ireland protocol in Windsor after months of diplomacy, officials said.

Sunak will then begin the daunting task of selling the reforms to pro-Brexit Conservative MPs and the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party, with a statement to parliament scheduled for Monday afternoon.

He has already begun selling the deal, and British officials say Sunak has secured “fundamental” reforms to the protocol, part of Boris Johnson’s 2019 Brexit deal.

They say the deal will address concerns about trade friction in goods traveling between Britain and Northern Ireland and what local politicians have called a “democratic deficit”, giving them a say in new EU rules in the region.

Two people with knowledge of the agreement have said that the revised agreement, which is more than 100 pages long, is an “implementation agreement” that sits on top of the existing text of the protocol.

Brussels will have to make some changes to existing EU law, as it did last year to resolve an issue over access to generic medicines for Northern Ireland, in order to make the changes effective.

“It is a solution that will allow the EU to say ‘we have not reopened the text of the deal’, but the UK can say ‘we have won substantial legal changes to the package’,” a source said.

Among the expected changes is a repeal to pet passports that will allow UK residents to bring their dogs to Northern Ireland without microchips and pet passports as if they were traveling to the EU, as is currently required.

The EU is also expected to soften its stance on other areas of contention that make Northern Ireland residents feel that their place in the UK’s internal market is constrained, for example around the receipt of Great Britain parcels. Brittany by mail.

Another area officials are confident will be resolved is a dispute over steel quotas that led HM Revenue & Customs to warn UK producers last August that some steel products would have to pay 25 percent tariffs. when shipped to Northern Ireland.

The UK’s decision to bring full data transparency to the EU, along with the construction of border checkpoints at Northern Ireland ports, is expected to unlock a radical simplification of the processes required for UK traders to ship products to Northern Ireland.

It is anticipated that those who register products through a trusted trader scheme and label consumer products as “NI-Only” will not be required to present a full customs and animal health certification at the border, although not all are known yet. the details of the scheme. .

Taken together, the UK will say, the package represents a significant improvement in the functioning of the trade border Johnson agreed to in the Irish Sea as part of the original Northern Ireland protocol deal in 2019.

More problematic for Sunak may be convincing the DUP and hardline Brexiters in his own party that the deal addresses the constitutional issues raised by the protocol.

The officials conceded that the deal would not remove EU law or the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice for Northern Ireland, which remains part of the single market for goods, as Brexit hawks demand.

Experts on both sides indicated that Brussels had not moved substantially on the ECJ’s role in applying the protocol, although the UK is expected to argue that the amount of EU law that applies will have been effectively reduced.

The deal will also not meet the DUP’s recent demand for a dual regulatory regime in the region, with producers being able to choose to apply UK standards, rather than EU standards, for exports to the UK market.

The protocol also requires the UK to refer decisions on subsidies or “state aid” that may affect Northern Ireland’s goods trade market to Brussels. The experts indicated that this would remain, but that only the most important decisions required referral.

The deal is also expected to include a system to significantly improve the level of consultation with the Northern Ireland assembly on new EU rules and regulations applying in the region to address concerns about a “democratic deficit” caused by the protocol.

However, the consultative mechanism, which is expected to be similar to the one Norway enjoys as part of its agreement to implement EU single market legislation, will not amount to a veto.

Sunak hopes the deal will ultimately persuade the DUP to rejoin Stormont’s power-sharing executive, which is boycotting in protest of the protocol’s operation.

But the prime minister is also aiming for a much bigger prize of better relations with the EU, including scientific collaboration, and warmer ties with US President Joe Biden, who has raised concerns over the standoff over Northern Ireland.

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