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#Brexit - Barnier calls for 'real and tangible' progress in joint statement

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EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier and UK negotiator David Frost resume discussions, 15 April

Today (15 April) the EU and UK recommenced their discussions by video conference and scheduled the next negotiating rounds. Barnier noted that "proper and timely" implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement was a key priority for both sides, writes Catherine Feore

Talks resumed following Michel Barnier's speedy recovery from COVID-19; during this time, his team were able to make some progress with clarification on language and the identification of areas of divergence and convergence. A joint statement was published after the meeting.

Barnier and Frost also discussed the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. They welcomed the fact that a first meeting of the Joint Committee had taken place between Michael Gove and Maroš Šefčovič (30 March) and they looked forward to its next meeting.  They agreed that the proper and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement was a key priority for both sides and noted that the Specialized Committees provided for by the Agreement, including on the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland and on citizens' rights, would meet soon.

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The transition period is due to expire at the end of this year. That deadline already appeared very difficult to some, especially those businesses most effected like the automotive sector and freight services. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic this timing appears to be more unrealistic than ever.

On 7 April the UK's chief negotiator tweeted to "reassure people" that work was continuing despite the pandemic.

The UK has had to divert huge resources to addressing the pandemic. The European Commission, though also heavily involved in mitigating the pandemic and assisting states in addressing questions like state aid, is not itself burdened to the same extent. Brexit-supporting commentators close to the UK government have suggested that an extension may be inevitable.

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UK's Johnson urges EU to consider post-Brexit proposals seriously

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Britain's Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Boris Johnson poses with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen during the Leaders official welcome and family photo at the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain, June 11, 2021. Leon Neal/Pool via REUTERS

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to consider seriously Britain's proposals to change what he called the "unsustainable" way a Brexit deal is governing trade with Northern Ireland, writes Elizabeth Piper.

Since it completed its exit from the EU at the end of last year, Britain's ties with the bloc have reached new lows, with both sides accusing each other of acting in bad faith over an agreement for post-Brexit trade with Northern Ireland.

London accuses Brussels of being too purist, or legalistic, in interpreting what the deal means for some goods moving from Britain to its province of Northern Ireland. The EU says it is adhering to the deal, which Johnson signed just last year.

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Britain proposed on Wednesday to renegotiate parts of the Northern Ireland protocol that govern the movement of goods such as chilled meats, and to dispense with EU oversight of the accord.

The EU has rejected the demand to renegotiate, with von der Leyen repeating the bloc's message on Twitter, saying: "The EU will continue to be creative and flexible within the Protocol framework. But we will not renegotiate."

Johnson spoke to van der Leyen last week.

"The prime minister set out that the way the protocol was currently operating was unsustainable. He said that solutions could not be found through the existing mechanisms of the protocol and that's why we'd set out proposals for significant changes to it," Johnson's spokesman told reporters.

Johnson urged the EU to "look at the proposals seriously and work with the UK on them" saying this would put the UK-EU relationship on a better footing.

Britain drafted the proposals in one paper that it issued on Wednesday to try to force stuttering negotiations forward on making the so-called protocol work better. Some critics say few of the suggestions are new and could largely be dismissed by the EU.

The protocol addresses the biggest conundrum raised by the divorce: how to preserve the delicate peace brought to the province by the U.S.-brokered 1998 Good Friday peace accord - by maintaining an open border - without opening a back door through neighbouring Ireland to the EU’s single market of 450 million people.

It essentially requires checks on goods between the British mainland and Northern Ireland, which remains part of the EU customs area. These have proved burdensome to companies and an anathema to unionists, who are fiercely supportive of the province remaining part of the United Kingdom.

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EU backs Ireland as UK searches for solutions to Northern Ireland Protocol dilemma

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The controversial Northern Ireland Protocol which is part of the EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement, shows no sign of resolving itself any time soon. As Ken Murray reports from Dublin, the European Commission is unwilling to back down while the British continue to search for an opening to get themselves out of an agreed document that they themselves hailed last December.

It’s seven months since the British government boasted of a great deal when Brexit was formally signed and sealed in Brussels with smiles and pre-Christmas cheer all round.

As UK chief negotiator Lord David Frost tweeted on Christmas Eve 2020: “I’m very pleased and proud to have led a great UK team to secure today’s excellent deal with the EU.

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“Both sides worked tirelessly day after day in challenging conditions to get the biggest and broadest deal in the World, in record time. Thank you all who made it happen.”

One might think reading his words that the British government were hoping to live happily ever after once the deal was done. However, all is not going to plan.

Under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is an annex to the EU/UK accord, created a new trading arrangement between GB and Northern Ireland which, although being on the island of Ireland, is actually in the United Kingdom.

The objective of the Protocol is that certain items being moved from GB to NI such as eggs, milk and chilled meats amongst others, must undergo port checks in order to arrive on to the island of Ireland from where they can be sold locally or moved on to the Republic, which remains in the European Union.

As working class protestant unionists or British loyalists in Northern Ireland see it, the Protocol or notional trade border in the Irish Sea, amounts to another incremental step towards a united Ireland-which they vehemently oppose-and marks further isolation from Britain where their loyalty is to.

Former Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Edwin Poots said the Protocol has put “absurd barriers placed on trade with our biggest market [GB]”.

A grace period from 1 January to 30 June was agreed to allow for the measures to come in to effect but such has been the hostility in Northern Ireland towards the Protocol, that period has now been extended until the end of September in order to find ways for acceptable compromise to keep all sides happy!

The Protocol and its implications which, it seems, Britain didn’t think through, has angered members of the unionist community so much in Northern Ireland, protests on the streets every other night since early Summer, have become a common sight.

Such is the sense of betrayal towards London over the Protocol, British loyalists have threatened to take their protests to Dublin in the Irish republic, a move many would see as provoking an excuse for violence.

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson speaking on The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk Radio in Dublin recently said: “Save for there being a quite remarkable turnaround in terms of the Northern Ireland protocol in the coming weeks… I would imagine most definitely those protests will be taken south of the border, certainly following 12 July.”

12 July, a date seen in Northern Ireland as marking the peak of the Orange Order marching season, has come and gone. So far, those opposed to the Protocol in Northern Ireland have yet to cross the border that separates northern from southern Ireland.

However, with pressure mounting on the Government in London from British unionists in Northern Ireland and traders who feel their businesses will suffer greatly when the full contents of the Protocol document come in to effect, Lord Frost has been trying desperately to amend and soften the deal he negotiated and praised to the max last December.

The same deal, it should be added, was passed in the House of Commons by 521 votes to 73, a sign perhaps that the British Government didn’t perform its due diligence!

Among the visible consequences of Brexit in Northern Ireland are long delays for truck drivers at ports with some major supermarkets chains complaining of empty shelves.

The feeling in Dublin is that if COVID-19 measures were not in place, the real true consequences of Brexit would likely be more harsh in Northern Ireland than they already are.

With pressure on Lord Frost to sort out this political dilemma as soon as possible, he told the Westminster parliament last week, “we can not go on as we are”.

Publishing what was titled ‘A Command Paper’, it brazenly went on to say, “the involvement of the EU in policing the deal just “engenders mistrust and problems”.

The Paper even suggested the abolition of blanket customs paperwork for traders selling from Great Britain into NI.

Instead, a “trust and verify” system, dubbed an “honesty box”, would apply, whereby traders would register their sales in a light-touch system allowing inspection of their supply chains, a suggestion which, no doubt, sent smugglers to bed with a smile on their face!

The very suggestion of an “honesty box” must have sounded amusing and ironic in Northern Ireland where in 2018, Boris Johnson promised delegates at the DUP annual conference that “there would be no border in the Irish Sea” only for him to subsequently go back on his word!

With EU Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen confirming last week to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that there will be no re-negotiation of the Agreement, the UK side looks set to make itself ultra unpopular again with the protestant unionist and Irish nationalist communities in Northern Ireland.

With British protestant unionists in Northern Ireland angry over the Protocol, Irish catholic nationalists are also furious with London after the Secretary of State for NI Brandon Lewis announced proposals to cease all investigations in to murders committed during the Troubles prior to 1998.

If implemented, the families of those that died at the hands of British soldiers and security services would never ever get justice while those that died from actions carried out by UK loyalists and Irish republicans would suffer the same fate.

The Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking in Dublin said “the British proposals were unacceptable and amounted to betrayal [to the families].”

With US President Joe Biden, a man of Irish heritage, saying last year that he will not sign a trade deal with the UK if London does anything to undermine the 1998 Northern Ireland Peace Agreement, the Boris Johnson administration, it seems, has a dwindling number of friends in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, Dublin and Washington.

Talks to review the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol look set to resume in the coming weeks.

With the EU signalling it is unwilling to budge and the US administration siding with Dublin, London finds itself in a difficult dilemma which will require something remarkable to escape from.

As one caller to a Dublin radio phone-in programme remarked last week on the issue: “Somebody should tell the British that Brexit has consequences. You get what you vote for.”

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UK demands EU agrees to new Northern Ireland Brexit deal

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View of the border crossing between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland outside Newry, Northern Ireland, Britain, October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Britain on Wednesday (21 July) demanded a new deal from the European Union to oversee post-Brexit trade involving Northern Ireland but shied away from unilaterally ditching part of the divorce deal despite saying its terms had been breached, write Michael Holden and William James.

The Northern Ireland protocol was agreed by Britain and the European Union as part of a 2020 Brexit deal, finally sealed four years after British voters backed the divorce in a referendum.

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It sought to get round the biggest conundrum of the divorce: how to protect the EU's single market but also avoid land borders between the British province and the Irish Republic, the presence of which politicians on all sides fear could fuel violence largely ended by a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace accord.

The protocol essentially required checks on goods between the British mainland and Northern Ireland, but these have proved burdensome to business and an anathema to "unionists" who are fiercely supportive of the province remaining part of the United Kingdom.

"We cannot go on as we are," Brexit Minister David Frost told parliament, saying there was justification for invoking Article 16 of the protocol which allowed either side to take unilateral action to dispense with its terms if there was an unexpected negative effect arising from the agreement.

"It is clear that the circumstances exist to justify the use of Article 16. Nevertheless ... we have concluded that is not the right moment to do so.

"We see an opportunity to proceed differently, to find a new path to seek to agree with the EU through negotiations, a new balance in our arrangements covering Northern Ireland, to the benefit of all."

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