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Saturday, 09 December 2023
EU 'clearing house' seeks to calm Brexit tensions over Northern Ireland
Maroš Šefčovič speaking to Ireland’s European affairs committee.

Maroš Šefčovič tells Dáil in Ireland he wants new committee to find solutions to trade problems

The EU is seeking to “de-escalate” Brexit tensions in Northern Ireland with the establishment of a new “clearing house” committee to work out solutions to issues caused by new trade barriers including controls on supermarket and chilled meat supplies.

The European commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič said the introduction of the Northern Ireland protocol had been “administratively extremely challenging” but the EU was doing as much as possible to “calm down” and stabilise the backlash over checks and controls on goods entering the region from Great Britain.

He told MPs on Ireland’s European affairs committee that the UK rejected a transition period over issues such as the “supply chains of sausages” and that “teething problems” were inevitable.

“We knew this might happen. We have been discussing this with our UK partners for the last year.”

The barriers to supply chains have fuelled local protests, anti-protocol graffiti and an official campaign by the Democratic Unionist party to scrap the protocol completely.

Šefčovič said a new clearing house would be set up to assess any political solutions and act as an early warning system to alert both the UK and the EU to problems arising locally.

But he added the implementation of the protocol “is a shared responsibility” and the onus was on both sides to make it work. “It must be always a two-way street,” he said.

“We also have to recognise the fact that we knew from the beginning that the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, the customs union and the single market is a massive operation, that it’s not possible to prevent all the disruption.

“It was quite obvious from the beginning that there will be teething problems and I believe that we can resolve them if we work very well together,” he told the Dáil committee.

But he indicated there would be little flexibility around the protocol until the UK had implemented it fully, telling the committee that “official controls at the border control posts are currently not performed in compliance with the withdrawal agreement protocol and the European Union rules”.

There were “very few identity checks, very limited number of physical checks” and the EU could not assess the impact of trusted trader schemes and simplified health certificates for products such as chilled food until it had “real time” access to the customs data.

He will meet Northern Ireland business and civic leaders in an online summit on Thursday ahead of a meeting of the joint committee he chairs with the UK Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, which is due to take place no later than 24 February.

He gave little detail on the clearing house but said it would assess and evaluate political solutions to the protocol issues. It would be bolstered by the establishment of new Brexit structures including a partnership council, also to be jointly chaired by Gove and 19 “specialised committees”.

Šefčovič told the Dáil committee that he “deeply regrets” last month’s aborted attempt to suspend part of the protocol in an EU vaccine row and said there would be a monthly meeting of commissioners “with the highest stake in this new EU-UK relationship” to ensure such a blunder was not repeated.

source: Lisa O'Carroll