Brexit: Insider discusses UK state aid rules
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Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal, which came into effect at the end of December, restored Britain’s place as a fully independent trading nation. However, it also introduced some customs checks on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
This has infuriated unionists who are demanding the measures, introduced via the Northern Ireland protocol, are scrapped.
Boris Johnson has threatened to dump the protocol entirely unless the EU shows greater flexibility.
In a sign this could be happening, earlier this week Brussels agreed to delay the introduction of checks on chilled meats.
There had been concerns this measure would block British sausages from Northern Ireland.
Appearing before a Stormont committee, Marcos Sefcovic, a top EU politician who chairs the council on UK relations, insisted Brussels won’t block medicines from entering Northern Ireland.
However, writing for Conservative Home, Stephen Booth, who heads Policy Exchange’s Britain in the world project, warned this could merely delay confrontation.
He wrote: “The extension merely buys time over the summer rather than fundamentally resolving the situation regarding checks on food, or the wider Protocol, where the UK and EU positions remain at odds in many areas.
“The EU suggests the time be used for Northern Irish retailers to adjust their supply chains to source products from the Irish Republic and the rest of the EU – a further diversion of Great Britain-Northern Ireland trade.
“Meanwhile, the UK insists that the time be used to find permanent solutions that respect Northern Ireland’s position within the UK’s customs territory.
“The UK’s current approach appears to be to grind away at the EU position, rather than adopt further unilateral measures at this stage.
“However, with the Protocol continuing to cause major problems on the ground, despite the current stop-gap easements in place, this position may be revisited in the autumn if the stalemate continues.”
Loyalist rioting across Northern Ireland in April was blamed in part on anger over the protocol.
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There had been fears of further disorder if additional checks were introduced later this month, during the loyalist marching season.
A poll of Northern Irish voters by LucidTalk, for Queen’s University Belfast, found 67 percent think the province requires “particular arrangements” to manage Brexit.
Some 48 percent of respondents said the protocol is bad for Northern Ireland, with 43 percent arguing it’s a positive.
Earlier this year the UK unilaterally extended the grace period for some Northern Ireland checks, infuriating Brussels.
In response, the EU launched legal action against the UK.
Britain had threatened to unilaterally lengthen the grace period for chilled meats, had Brussels not compromised.
Mr Booth commented: “The agreement on the extension avoids a further escalation, which might have occurred if the UK had unilaterally extended the grace period, as it did with other grace periods in March this year.
“Meanwhile, the EU appears to have taken the view that a further public bust up isn’t in its interests at this stage.”
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the new DUP leader, has said Mr Johnson must be prepared to scrap the protocol.
LucidTalk surveyed 1,500 Northern Irish voters between June 11 and 14.
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