DUP says EU plans for NI protocol ‘long way short of being basis of sustainable solution’
Sefcovic sidestep question about whether ECJ oversight remains red line for EU
Sefcovic says he hopes UK and EU ‘in home stretch’ in terms of reaching agreement
Sefcovic says plans will make ‘real, tangible difference on the ground’
EU offers to scrap 80% of NI food checks but prepares for Johnson to reject deal
Full details of how EU is proposing to change Northern Ireland protocol
EU press conference announcing proposed changes to Northern Ireland protocol
Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn Fein deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, welcomed what she called the “far-reaching” EU plans. She said:
I think that demonstrates both in word and deed that the EU side are living up to their commitments that they made to both business and civic leaders as well as political leaders.
Asked if the proposals represented a victory for the DUP, she replied:
Brexit is the problem and the protocol is a solution, the protocol remains today, we have always said there needed to be flexibility inbuilt into that protocol to make it work, that was what Maros Sefcovic committed to when he met business and civic leaders here back in September and he’s true to his word today, he has delivered upon what he listened to and I think that’s crucially important.
So I think now is the time for clarity, time for certainty. That’s what the business community here want. It’s been far too long with so much uncertainty.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, has described the plans as a “welcome acknowledgement that the NI protocol has not worked”.
But, in a lengthy response, he also said the proposals “clearly fall a long way short of being the basis of a sustainable solution”. Here is an extract.
Short -term fixes that reduce checks and potentially give the appearance of easements compared to the current time will not of themselves solve the problem of divergence within the United Kingdom. Other less talked about aspects of the current protocol – state aid and VAT arrangements- if left unaltered will be detrimental to Northern Ireland’s long term prospects.
Constitutionally, this Irish Sea border violates the Acts of Union and is opposed by every elected unionist in Northern Ireland. Rather than cement peace and stability, the protocol has been the catalyst for instability.
Back in July I outlined our seven tests that we would use to measure new arrangements. They were based on commitments already made to Northern Ireland. At their heart was the removal of the Irish Sea border. Economically it has damaged trade between us and our main market and politically it has undermined the Union by placing a border between one part of the United Kingdom and another.
These proposals clearly fall a long way short of being the basis of a sustainable solution and are presented within the framework of a protocol that has failed.
The European Commission has published seven papers relating to today’s announcement. Four cover the main topics – SPS issues, customs, medicines and stakeholder engagement – and the other three cover the benefits of the protocol, examples of flexibilities already identified, and concrete examples of how these plans would work. All seven papers are here.
Sefcovic says the EU is clear that the ECJ should be the final arbiter of the single market.
But he says when he started working on these plans, he focused on the practical issues. That is where they should be focusing their energies, he says.
And that’s it. The press conference is over.
Sefcovic says in his meetings with civil society representatives in Northern Ireland he only heard the ECJ issue mentioned once.
He says he thinks he first became aware of it as a problem issue when he read the UK government’s command paper earlier this year.
Q: Do you think the UK will negotiate earnestly on these plans?
Sefcovic says of course he thinks they will.
He says they cooperated in agreeing the protocol in the first place. They did that because both sides shared the same goals – prosperity, peace and no hard border.
That is why they came up with an unprecedented solution, he says.
Many of today’s ideas are also unprecedented, he says.
He says he hopes they share the same goal now.
And access to two markets could benefit the Northern Ireland economy, he says.
Q: How can you resolve the dispute over the ECJ?
Sefcovic says he does not want to focus on red lines. He says both sides should listen to what people in Northern Ireland says about what they want. People want them to focus on practical issues, he says.
He says the EU is doing its utmost. He hopes this will be reciprocated by the UK.
EU officials are in London briefing their counterparts, he says. And he says he has invited Lord Frost for lunch on Friday.
He says he would be very happy if they could start the new year with the new rules in place.
Q: Why are you still refusing to recognise pet passports?
Sefcovic says these plans were based on what people thought were the most pressing issues in Northern Ireland. That is why sausages would be allowed. The EU is making an enormous effort, he says.
Q: Is the European court of justice a red line for you? And what will you do if article 16 is triggered?
Sefcovic says he wants to stick to a positive agenda today. He says these ideas should be appealing.
Sefcovic is says these measures would cement “stability and predictability” in Northern Ireland.
He says he briefed the EU member states and the European parliament on the plans today.
He says he hopes the UK government will engage.
And he says he hopes they are “in the home stretch” in this process.
Sefcovic is now talking about the community engagement aspects of the plans. See 5.33pm.