Northern Ireland: UK 'waiting for EU engagement' says Lewis
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The UK has submitted approximately a dozen papers to the Commission outlining proposals to fix problems with the Protocol. Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said the Government was yet to hear formally from the EU on any of the suggestions.
It is thought barriers to UK medicines crossing the Irish Sea from Britain will be removed by Brussels to help ease frictions.
But in an extraordinary development, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis this morning claimed the UK only found out about the plans from social media.
He told MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs select committee: “I do understand in a couple of areas such as medicine, the EU has thought about some proposals.
“I don’t think we’ve yet seen the details of that, we know about that because of a tweet from an Irish journalist, so, we’re waiting to see.
“Maroš Šefčovič was pretty clear on media a couple of weeks ago about wanting to be flexible and pragmatic to get things moving.
“We agree with that, we need to see that move from being words to being action.”
Lord Frost has been holding meetings with Mr Šefčovič, his EU counterpart, to try and find a way forward on the Protocol.
The UK claims the measures are having a damaging impact on the UK’s internal market, while Brussels says the EU single market could be impacted if customs checks don’t take place on goods crossing the Irish Sea.
Mr Lewis said the suggestions placed forward by the UK would solve both problems.
He said: “There are some pragmatic and flexible things we can do.
“We have put now, I think, more than a dozen papers over to the Commission as to how we can deal with the Protocol in a way that can work for everybody.
“It deals with the concerns the EU have got about protecting their single market and ensures we can continue to deliver on our main focus, which is the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement and the prosperity for Northern Ireland and the peace process, as well the integrity of the UK single market.
“As I say, we’ve put over about a dozen or more papers to the EU now.
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“We are still waiting for full engagement in that and responses from the EU on those papers I believe at the moment.
“That’s a matter for Lord Frost and his team to take forward.”
Mr Lewis added the Protocol in its current form “is not sustainable” and the UK and EU needed “to rectify that”.
While there has been little engagement in the longer-term proposals submitted by the UK, the EU is set to agree to extend the grace periods on the introduction of customs checks on some goods.
European Union member states have informally agreed to grant Britain a three-month extension for customs checks.
Britain asked Brussels for the extra time last week to resolve a dispute over whether chilled meat products such as sausages, produced in the mainland United Kingdom, can continue to be sold in Northern Ireland.
Under the terms of the Protocol, shipment of chilled meats were set to be banned from the start of July.
“We’ve got to get back to that situation where the products that are available in Northern Ireland are the products you’ve always been able to access and they are not unavailable because of anything other than consumer choice,” Mr Lewis told the committee earlier today.
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