Green for go ... but EU ‘ignores’ proposed system

The foreign secretary has set out her intention to bring forward legislation that will within weeks override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

By Henry McDonald
Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 7:25 am
Updated Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 7:46 am
Haulage lorry drives passed a sign at Belfast Port welcoming travellers to the Harbour Estate.
Haulage lorry drives passed a sign at Belfast Port welcoming travellers to the Harbour Estate.

The bill will propose separate “green” and “red” lanes for goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with those destined to stay within the UK freed from EU-level checks.

There will be no crossover between the channels, it is understood, with goods filtering through one or the other, depending on their intended destination.

The News Letter has learned that a “data-sharing” system allowing European customs officials to monitor along with their UK counterparts goods crossing the Irish Sea has still not been examined by the EU.

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Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in the House of Commons, London, as she sets out her intention to bring forward legislation within weeks scrapping parts of the post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland. Picture date: Friday December 10, 2021.

The system was developed nine months ago as an alternative to compulsory universal checks on all goods from GB into NI.

However, it is understood that while the system has been made available to the EU no-one from the European Commission as of yet has looked at it.

Ms Truss’ legislation is due in the “coming weeks”, before the parliamentary summer recess and it had been heavily tipped to have been introduced at Westminster yesterday.

Speaking at London’s Paddington Station yesterday, Boris Johnson said the Truss bill involved ditching “relatively minor barriers to trade”.

The prime minister added: “We need to address the problems with the protocol. I think there are good, common sense, pragmatic solutions. We need to work with our EU friends to achieve that.”

The foreign secretary told the House of Commons the bill will put in place the necessary measures to “lessen the burden on east-west trade and to ensure the people of Northern Ireland are able to access the same benefits as the people of Great Britain”.

“The bill will ensure that goods moving and staying within the UK are freed of unnecessary bureaucracy through our new green channel,” she said.

“This respects Northern Ireland’s place in the UK, in its customs territory, and protects the UK internal market.

“At the same time it ensures that goods destined for the EU undergo the full checks and controls applied under EU law.”

This will be underpinned by “data-sharing arrangements”, she said.

“It will allow both east-west trade and the EU single market to be protected whilst removing customs paperwork for goods remaining in the United Kingdom,” she added.

Ms Truss went on to say the bill will remove regulatory barriers to goods made to UK standards being sold in Northern Ireland, with businesses able to choose between meeting UK or EU standards in a new “dual regulatory regime”.

The legislation will also provide the government with the ability to decide on tax and spend policies across the whole of the UK, she said.

This would relate to matters such as changes to VAT and allow Northern Ireland to enjoy cuts in VAT rates the Province has been excluded from under EU rules.

Ms Truss added: “It will address issues related to governance, bringing the protocol in line with international norms.

“At the same time it will take new measures to protect the EU single market by implementing robust penalties for those who seek to abuse the new system.”

It is understood that the UK would pull the bill in the event of all of its aims and objectives being met by the EU.

The option of invoking Article 16 will remain on the table.

More details are expected to be set out in the coming weeks. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he deeply regretted the decision to introduce the legislation that will unilaterally disapply elements of the protocol on Northern Ireland.

Mr Coveney said the UK government’s move was “damaging to trust and will only serve to make it more challenging to find solutions to the genuine concerns that people in Northern Ireland have about the way the protocol is being implemented”.

Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president and EU chief negotiator on the protocol, said the UK’s plan to override parts of the post-Brexit trade deal “raises significant concerns”.

He warned that if Boris Johnson goes ahead with this the EU will respond “with all measures at its disposal”.

Labour MP Hilary Benn, who is co-convenor of the UK Trade and Business Commission, said unilateral action wasn’t going to help Northern Ireland overcome its problems with the protocol.

Mr Benn added: “Breaking our international agreement with the EU will undermine trust and send a clear message to other trade partners around the world that the UK cannot stick to deals we sign. It could also, if the EU takes action in response, mean higher costs for British business and individuals already strapped for cash.”

l Morning View, page 18