This month, officials from both sides have involved in intense “technical talks” over the future checks on food, plants and parcels going from Britain to Northern Ireland. Relations between London and Brussels hit rock bottom last month, with the EU launching legal action against the UK over the extension of the grace period for checks on supermarket goods travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland. But now EU sources have reportedly put it to UK officials that 90 percent of border checks could be wiped out, but only if Britain agrees to align food standards with those of the bloc.
It has been suggested if the UK is willing to adopt an agreement similar to that operating for Australia and New Zealand agrifood trade, then border checks could be significantly eased – solving a problem that has left tensions simmering over recent weeks.
Ireland’s Europe minister Thomas Byrne warned the situation is “delicate”, but he admitted it would be “excellent” if such a deal could be agreed as it would solve problems in Northern Ireland and those facing exporters in Britain.
However, industry insiders have warned this would still not address concerns from loyalists as it would still require a significant amount of paperwork.
UK and EU sources have said that while progress is being made in talks, there hasn’t been a focus on removing checks on goods but instead looking at eliminating the series of “rolling deadlines” from the implementation of border controls.
Last week, Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis told political parties in the country during a visit to Belfast that the contentious protocol would not be scrapped.
The came despite demands from the DUP among others following seven successive nights of violence on the streets of Belfast.
Brexit minister Lord Frost is now being sent to Brussels for crunch talks with EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic over the simmering tensions in Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister’s top Brexit adviser will meet with the European Commission vice-president to discuss the ongoing issues with Northern Ireland Protocol to avoid a hard border.
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“Both the UK and EU are engaging with business, civil society and other stakeholders in Northern Ireland, to understand the issues they are facing.
“The UK remains committed to working through the outstanding issues in order to restore confidence on the ground in Northern Ireland , reflect the needs of communities and respect all dimensions of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.”
Following Brexit, Northern Ireland has effectively remained in the EU’s Single Market to avoid a hard border between the region and mainland Britain.
At the end of last month, Downing Street sent a document to Brussels outlining its views on the outstanding issues over the Northern Ireland protocol.
But this has been rejected by eurocrats, who argue this plan falls short of what was expected to be a “roadmap” to Britain’s full implementation of the post-Brexit border arrangements.
The UK wants Brussels to move to make the pact work, with the Government pushing for greater flexibility from the EU’s trade rules to limit any trade GB-NI trade borders.
There have been suggestions Brussels could could offer the possibility of a joint UK-EU veterinary pact to achieve this.
However, this would mark a dramatic change in direction from the UK, with Lord Frost’s negotiating team previously rejecting any chance of Britain aligning to EU standards.