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EU seeks compromise with UK to maintain a level playing field

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Addressing the European Parliament (16 December), President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said that the issue of level playing field provisions needed to be resolved. She described the issue as ‘very simple’ for the EU, as it is essential to ensure fair competition and therefore robust mechanisms are needed in any future EU-UK agreement. 

The 'architecture' rests on two pillars, state aid and standards. Progress had been made on state aid. The European Commission’s team has agreed with the UK on common principles, guarantees of domestic enforcement and the possibility to autonomously remedy if and when either party diverges. 

On standards, such as those in the areas of labour and the environment, the EU said difficulties remained on how to future proof fair competition, as these requirements change over time. The EU-side proposed what has been called a ‘ratchet clause’, that would have meant the UK would align in some way with EU requirements. The UK has rejected this on the grounds of sovereignty, however other ways of respecting the same objective are being explored.  

Von de Leyen was pleased that progress has been made on governance, describing the issues a ‘largely' being resolved.

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Brexit barriers in focus as Northern Ireland's DUP kicks off leadership contest

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Democratic Unionist Party's (DUP) Edwin Poots makes a statement to the media outside Stormont Castle in Belfast, Northern Ireland June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

Northern' Ireland's biggest party was set for its first ever leadership election after its Westminster chief Jeffrey Donaldson threw his hat into the ring, promising to focus on the divisive issue of post-Brexit trade barriers.

Donaldson will stand against Edwin Poots to lead the Democratic Unionist Party at a time of heightened instability in the British province and unionist anger over the installation of a customs border in the Irish Sea.

Both Donaldson and Poots, Northern Ireland's agriculture minister, stopped short of making detailed campaign promises. But Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe will be watching for any hardening of stances on Brexit or social issues including abortion that could alter the political balance ahead of elections next year.

The DUP currently leads Northern Ireland in a power-sharing government with its Irish nationalist rivals Sinn Fein.

Donaldson or Poots will take over the leadership from Arlene Foster who announced last week she was stepping down as Northern Ireland's First Minister at the end of June, bowing to pressure from party members unhappy at her leadership. Read more

Her departure has added to instability in the region, where angry young pro-British loyalists rioted in recent weeks, partly over the barriers that they feel have cut them off from the rest of the UK.

"I will develop and swiftly implement an agreed programme of meaningful reform and clear policy direction on key challenges like the protocol," Donaldson said in a video announcement, referring to the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Like Foster, Donaldson, 58, is a former member of the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party. He was part of the negotiating team that stuck a deal to prop up the government of former British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017.

Once the DUP's support was no longer needed, May's successor Boris Johnson broke the party's "blood red line" and agreed to erect the trade barriers.

Poots, 55, is one of a number of DUP ministers who have protested against the Brexit arrangements by refusing to attend meetings with Irish counterparts established under the 1998 peace deal that ended 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.

Poots, a young earth creationist who rejects the theory of evolution, announced he was standing last week.

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Statement by Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič following the conclusion of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement

EU Reporter Correspondent

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European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič warmly welcomes the ratification of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, which will now be fully applicable as of 1 May 2021. This comes after an overwhelming vote of consent by the European Parliament on 27 April and subsequent Council decision today, thereby concluding the ratification process. The EU and the UK will exchange letters to that effect.  

"The ratification of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement is good news for European citizens and businesses. It provides a solid foundation for our longstanding friendship, co-operation and partnership with the United Kingdom on the basis of shared interests and values.

"In practice, the Agreement helps avoid significant disruptions, while protecting European interests and upholding the integrity of our Single Market. It also ensures a robust level playing field, by maintaining high levels of protection in areas, such as climate and environmental protection, social and labour rights, or state aid. Moreover, the Agreement includes effective enforcement, a binding dispute settlement mechanism and the possibility for both parties to take remedial measures.

"Democratic scrutiny will continue to be key in the implementation phase of the Agreement in order to ensure faithful compliance. Unity among EU institutions and member states will remain a cornerstone during this new chapter in our EU-UK relations." 

Vice President Šefčovič reiterates that the European Commission looks forward to a strong, constructive and collaborative partnership with the United Kingdom, based on mutual trust and respect. We have far more in common than that which divides us. He will reach out this week to Lord David Frost, co-chair of the EU-UK Partnership Council, to prepare the launch of its work, including the work of Specialized Committees.  

Finally, the Commission will continue to work tirelessly for joint solutions so that the Withdrawal Agreement, and the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland in particular, is also fully implemented and works for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland.

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Ireland confident of solution for post-Brexit Northern Ireland trade

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Ireland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney (pictured) said he firmly believes Britain and the European Union can solve outstanding issues around post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland, particularly if a middle ground can be found on animal and animal product checks, writes Padraic Halpin.

Trade barriers introduced between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom have caused deep anger among many pro-British unionists in the region and were partly responsible for over a week of nightly street violence this month.

British and EU negotiators have said they will step up talks in the coming weeks to solve what Simon Coveney described on Tuesday as "practical frustrations" in how the Northern Ireland protocol is being implemented. Read more

"I firmly believe that acting together within the framework of the protocol, the EU and UK can find solutions to the outstanding issues," Coveney told a parliamentary committee.

"Finding a sustainable and collaborative way forward will also foster stability that given recent very concerning disturbances in Northern Ireland is needed now more than ever."

Northern Ireland has remained in the EU single market for goods since Britain left the bloc's orbit on 31 December 2020 to ensure an open border with EU member Ireland and so requires checks on goods coming from other parts of the United Kingdom.

Coveney said 20 of the 26 different issues isolated by negotiators could be solved through technical discussions but that the others are more contentious and may require a change of approach from the politicians.

Those include the supply of medicines into Northern Ireland, steel tariffs, labelling of goods and most crucially sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks on animal and animal product checks, he said.

Britain previously swiftly rejected signing up to "dynamic alignment" with EU standards that would have removed most of those checks while the EU knocked back a UK proposal for a more hands off approach.

Coveney said finding a middle ground on this issue offered a real opportunity to "quite significantly" change the implementation of the protocol.

"It is a no brainer as far as I'm concerned but unfortunately many of the issues linked to Brexit are approached not from the basis of pragmatism but in terms of Britain needing to do its own thing," he said, referring to the SPS issue.

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