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Brexit Brief Newsletter

22 February 2021

Welcome to the 22 February 2021 newsletter

On Thursday, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič met businesses and civic society to discuss the issues around the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. Lord Frost has been appointed Minister of State in the Cabinet Office and will lead Britain’s relationship with the EU. Invest NI has been promoting Northern Ireland’s unique economic position under the Protocol. Unionist parties have joined a judicial challenge to the Protocol, while this afternoon a DUP petition to Trigger Article 16 will be debated in the House of Commons.

 

Šefčovič hears from NI businesses and civic leaders

On Thursday Maroš Šefčovič met virtually with Northern Ireland’s business leaders and civil society. Ahead of the meeting, Arlene Foster tweeted that it “must include those hardest hit and those who opposed the Protocol rather than just cheerleaders for the rigorous implementation of the Protocol.” A senior member of the Orange Order was among the attendees of the meeting.

Aodhán Connolly of the NI Retail Consortium attended the meeting and writes in the Belfast Telegraph that “the business community has proved time and time again that it is willing to put in the hard graft to make it [the Protocol] work. We now need the EU and the UK to show that they have the political will to live up to their side of the bargain.”

Manufacturing NI tweet - Thanks for the positive engagement about the practicalities, the on the ground difficulties experienced by traders since 1 January and the need for pragmatism and engagement. Hopefully there's delivery next week. Michael Gove on Twitter - Constructive meetings with business and civic society in NI on challenges they face on the ground. Will help guide Joint Committee work. Together with Maros Sefcovic, committed to the proper implementation of IE/NI Protocol an fining pragmatic solutions. Next Joint Committee on 24 February.

Michael Gove and Manufacturing NI tweets following the meeting | Source: Twitter

Maroš Šefčovič spoke to BBC Newsline following the meeting, saying that solving the outstanding issues must be a “two-way street”. He said the Protocol offers “a unique opportunity” to operate in both the EU and UK markets, and he was glad business leaders were highlighting this aspect. On a Swiss-style deal, Šefčovič pointed out the Protocol cannot be renegotiated but noted the main complaint from business was about SPS controls and that the farmers’ union would support such an arrangement. He said that while he would explore the option, the request has to come from the UK Government. Šefčovič said he shouldn’t “overpromise” that everything can be solved, but parties are working to “minimise to the maximum possible extent” the consequences of Brexit.

 

Supermarkets face new rules

Imports to Northern Ireland from GB of ‘high-risk’ meat products now require Export Health Certificates (EHCs). From 22 February this new documentation is required for ‘P&R’ goods. The ‘Prohibited and Restricted’ items include minced meat and chilled meat preparations, which will be subject to documentary, identity, and risk-based physical checks on entering NI.

In last December’s Joint Committee decision, agreement was reached on a 6-month grace period for P&R meat products imported from GB to NI. These items are usually prohibited from being imported into the EU single market. During the grace period it is expected that supermarkets will adjust their supply chains as from 1 July, they will no longer be able to import the products to NI from GB. The Joint Committee is meeting on Wednesday to discuss potential flexibilities under the Protocol.

Comprehensive guidance on the regulations can be found on the DAERA website.

 

Šefčovič questioned by TDs on Article 16 debacle

European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on EU Affairs on Tuesday 16 February, where TDs and Senators questioned him on the European Commission’s proposal to use Article 16 in its regulation to limit vaccine exports.

Šefčovič addressing the Oireachtas Committee | Source: Houses of the Oireachtas

Šefčovič addressing the Oireachtas Committee | Source: Houses of the Oireachtas

Šefčovič told Committee members that a clearing house has been set up by the European Commission, which will assess all issues impacting the UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland. This would provide early warning for the Irish government, and the political level of the Commission, of any future issues. A hotline has been established with Michael Gove in London: Šefčovič said, “I realise the relationship between the EU and UK and proper implementation of the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland require day-to-day care.” He stated that each European Commissioner will now have one cabinet member who will work on the relationship with the UK and on the implementation of the protocol.

He was pressed by several members about the events leading up to the Commission’s decision on Article 16, and who was responsible for the mistake. Šefčovič emphasised that, “We did not take the decision. Article 16 was never triggered.” He preferred to point out that the mistake was rectified and said, “It would be better not to engage in the blame game anymore.”

 

Challenges to the Protocol

On Friday, a judicial review challenge to the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland was launched by Jim Allister, leader of the TUV, former Labour MP Kate Hoey, and former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib. They argue that the Protocol contravenes the Act of Union 1800, the Northern Ireland Act and the Good Friday Agreement. Allister said: “it [the judicial review challenge] is not a substitute or alternative to sustained and effective political action against the Protocol...Indeed, the more the implementation of the Protocol is disrupted the less sustainable it becomes.”

The DUP and UUP have joined the TUV on the legal challenge. Former Attorney General for Northern Ireland John Larkin is also understood to have provided advice on the challenge.

 

Petition

Today the House of Commons holds a debate on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, following the petition started by First Minister Arlene Foster. The Commons Library has published a research briefing on the topic ahead of the debate, which you can watch this afternoon at 4.30 pm here.

 

Invest NI highlights unique position of Northern Ireland

Invest NI is highlighting the ‘dual market access position’ of Northern Ireland which has access to both the EU and GB markets for goods. The organisation, which is Northern Ireland’s regional business development agency and part of the Department for the Economy, says NI is “the only place where businesses can operate free from customs declarations, rules of origin certificates and non-tariff barriers on the sale of goods to both GB and the EU”.

Unfettered market access to Great Britain is set out in legislation

Great Britain imported over £436bn of goods in 2019.

    • Northern Ireland businesses maintain unfettered access to Great Britain for "qualifying goods"
      • This means from 1 January 2021 there continues to be:
      • No export declarations
      • No exit summary declarations
      • No import declarations on arrival in GB
      • No customs duties to pay
      • No VAT to pay at point of arrival
      • No changes to how goods from NI arrive at ports in Great Britain
    • There are some limited exceptions, when an export declaration needs to be submitted for the movement of goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain

Unfettered market access to the European Union

    • The EU imported over €1,935bn of goods in 2019.
      • For goods moving between Northern Ireland and the EU there are:
      • No checks or processes
      • No customs duties or tariffs
      • No customs border between Northern Ireland and the EU
      • No need to register for VAT in each EU member state
    • Northern Ireland maintains regulatory alignment on goods with the EU

Invest NI outlines the market access opportunities of the region | Source: Invest NI

 

Frost appointed Minister of State

Lord David Frost has been appointed Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, responsible for the UK’s relationship with the EU. From March he will take over Michael Gove’s role as co-chair of the Joint Committee (which oversees the Withdrawal Agreement and Protocol), and will become the UK’s representative on the Joint Partnership Council (which oversees the Trade and Cooperation Agreement). Frost previously led the UK’s future relationship negotiations with the EU which resulted in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

David Frost with Boris Johnson, Ursula von der Leyen and Michel Barnier during the final stages of negotiating the trade deal.

Frost (left) with Boris Johnson, Ursula von der Leyen and Michel Barnier during the final stages of negotiating the trade deal. | Source: European Commission

Frost tweeted that he is “hugely honoured” to take on the role and in doing so “stands on the shoulders of giants” such as Michael Gove. The Institute for Government argues that his appointment “makes sense”, given that Frost negotiated the trade agreement with the EU. However, he may be less open to compromise, given his “hard-line ‘sovereigntist’ approach”. The think tank also notes that his ministerial position means there can be more parliamentary scrutiny of UK-EU relations.

 

Representatives from Northern Ireland ports brief MLAs

On Wednesday, the Committee for Infrastructure heard from representatives from Larne, Warrenport, Londonderry, and Belfast ports. Ricardo Tonelli of the Port of Larne said there was not a single day with queue at ports - they have worked hard to keep freight lines open. David Holmes (Warrenport Port) and Maurice Bullick (Belfast Harbour Commissioners) said it is too early to say definitely what the impact of Brexit is.  Bullick pointed out that the port is primarily an infrastructure provider so it is one or two steps removed from the impact: "the traders and the hauliers and the owners of cargo shipping companies are most affected," he told MLAs.

Brian McGrath (Londonderry Port and Harbour) said business had mostly been as usual, thanks to advance preparations. Holmes pointed out that it is easier to enter and exit through NI (from GB), and therefore trade through Dublin port has decreased.

The Committee also heard from Glynn Roberts of Retail NI, who said the grace periods should be extended further, but that there is a need for long-term solutions and "it is not just a case of kicking the can down the road".

 

British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly meets

The British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA) is meeting virtually today for its 60th plenary.  The Assembly is made up of members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, Houses of Parliament, Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, Northern Ireland Assembly, High Court of Tynwald (Isle of Man) and the States of Guernsey and Jersey. It meets twice a year.

BIPA Irish Co-Chair Deputy Brendan Smith TD said “The 60th plenary is taking place in the midst of a global pandemic and less than two months after the end of the Brexit transition period. Against this backdrop, the work of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly, in building and deepening bonds between our nations, is more important than ever.” British Co-Chair Andrew Rosindell MP said, “With the UK now forging its own trade policy following Brexit and during a global pandemic BIPA’s role discussing issues of mutual concern and strengthening friendships between the UK, crown dependencies and Ireland has rarely been more important.”

The Northern Ireland members of BIPA are Steve Aiken MLA (UUP), Paul Givan MLA (DUP), Andrew Muir MLA (Alliance), Colin McGrath MLA (SDLP), John O'Dowd MLA (Sinn Féin).

 

Other news

  • An Interim Environmental Governance Secretariat (IEGS) has been set up to manage complaints about public authorities failing to implement environmental law. The European Commission no longer has an oversight role on environmental matters. The Office for Environmental Protection is to be established with the Environment Bill, which has been delayed, thus the OEP is not expected to be fully functional until later this year. Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Gordon Lyons said “As we await the introduction of the OEP, this new system means everyone can be reassured that environmental oversight will not simply be ignored.”
  • The European Commission has initiated the process to adopt data adequacy decisions for the UK. Following the Commission’s assessments of UK’s personal data protection practices and law, it concludes the UK ensures an “essentially equivalent level of protection”. Věra Jourová, Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency, said “The UK has left the EU, but not the European privacy family”. The Commission notes that the UK’s data protection regime has been shaped by EU law for decades.
  • The UK and EU are negotiating a cooperation agreement on regulating financial services. The UK Government’s consultation on the Future Regulatory Framework Review, which considers “how the regulatory framework for financial services needs to adapt to be fit for the future, in particular to reflect our new position outside of the EU” closed on Friday 19 February.
  • The European Commission has responded to a request from MEPs for the Commission to consider how Scotland and Wales could participate in the EU’s Erasmus+ programme. The Commission’s letter points out that the UK decided not to avail of the opportunity to participate in Erasmus+, which the Commission “regrets”. It states that it is not possible for one constituent nation of the UK to participate in Erasmus+ but that the Commission “remains open and ready to negotiate should the UK reconsider its position”.
  • The House of Commons has produced a useful briefing on driving in the EU after Brexit, including, for example, guidance on ‘green cards’ to show insurance cover.
  • The British Foreign Policy Group has published its 2021 annual survey of UK Public Opinion on Foreign Policy and Global Britain. The think tank finds that attitudes are changing following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and in the wake of the pandemic.

 

This Week at the Assembly

  • Monday 22 February, 12 pm – Plenary - EU Exit-related legislation; Question Time: The Executive Office
  • Tuesday 23 February, 3.15 pm – Plenary - Private Members’ Motion: North-South and East-West Trade
  • Wednesday 24 February, 11.05 am - Committee for Economy - FSB, Logistics UK, NI Retail Consortium & Retail NI Briefing - EU Exit and NI Protocol; ESF Succession Project -Departmental Written Briefing
  • Wednesday 24 February, 2.55 pm - Committee for Finance - Public Procurement Common Framework - Oral Evidence from Construction Employers' Federation
  • Wednesday 24 February, 3.00 pm - Committee for The Executive Office - Oral evidence session with Junior Ministers on Brexit issues
  • Thursday 25 February, 11.15 am - Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs - Implications of EU Exit and impact of TCA on SRs - Oral Evidence from DAERA; EU Transition Update - Written Briefing from DAERA

 

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