EU won't accept UK's N.Ireland Brexit red line: Ireland

·3 min read

The European Union will not accept London's demands for an alternative arbitrator to settle post-Brexit trade disputes involving Northern Ireland, Dublin said Thursday after the EU offered other concessions.

Brussels put forward a raft of proposals on Wednesday, including reduced customs checks and paperwork on British products intended for Northern Ireland, in a bid to solve problems caused by the Brexit deal signed last year.

But there was no movement on what Britain says is one of its red lines: the role of the EU's European Court of Justice (ECJ) as arbiter in any post-Brexit disputes involving the province.

"There should not be a role for the ECJ in any part of the UK, including Northern Ireland," British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News on Thursday, calling it "one of the most important issues".

But when asked by Britain's Times Radio if the EU would consider an alternative arbitration system, Ireland's European Affairs Minister Thomas Byrne said: "No, I don't think so.

"It is not a question of the European Court of Justice having any sovereignty over Britain or any part of Britain.

"It is simply the fact that the European Court of Justice arbitrates on the single market of the European Union, in which Northern Ireland has been allowed to remain," he added.

A team of EU negotiators on Wednesday delivered the plans to London, a day after the UK's Brexit minister David Frost said the current deal -- known as the Northern Ireland Protocol -- should be ripped up.

"We are looking forward to engaging earnestly and intensively with the UK government, in the interest of all communities in Northern Ireland," said European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic.

- 'Starting point' -

Sections of the pro-UK unionist community in Northern Ireland have rioted over the implementation of the protocol, which they say drives a wedge between the province and the rest of the UK.

They also fear it strengthens the push by republicans for a united Ireland following the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.

Jeffrey Donaldson, head of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, said he had held a "useful and honest discussion" with Sefcovic on Thursday.

"I welcomed the change of heart in Brussels with the decision to renegotiate," Donaldson said in a statement.

"I also explained why the proposals fall short of what is needed. We need a sustainable solution which removes the Irish Sea border and restores our place within the United Kingdom."

London earlier said it would look at the proposals "seriously and constructively".

Designing the protocol was a major source of friction in Britain's drawn-out divorce from the EU after it voted to leave the bloc in 2016.

Both sides say they want to preserve peace and stability by avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, which is split between EU-member the Republic of Ireland and the UK province.

To achieve this, Northern Ireland -- riven for decades until 1998 by violence over British rule -- was given unique status as a member of both the UK and the EU single market.

This required new checkpoints at ports to prevent goods from England, Scotland and Wales getting into the EU via Ireland -- a key source of anger among unionists.

To ease the frictions, the EU released four texts to address complaints of constrained medicine supplies, overzealous food safety checks and too much paperwork.

Taken together, the solutions would create an "express lane" for the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, the EU said.

But looming over the talks is Article 16 of the protocol -- which gives either side the right to suspend parts of the trading arrangement in exceptional circumstances.

Britain has threatened to use that provision by early November if the EU does not redraw the protocol.

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