‘State of distrust’ Even BLAIR admits EU needs to agree a Brexit row compromise

NI Protocol: James Cleverly gives an update on talks with EU

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The former Labour Prime Minister, who tried to use the Northern Ireland border during the referendum campaign in 2016 to scare voters into backing Remain, has now said the EU needs to compromise on the hated Protocol. A report published by the Tony Blair Institute will recommend a way forward which includes removing Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission bureaucrats from the process.

In the forward to the report published today [Wednesday June 1], Blair calls for flexibility to be shown by both sides amid fears that peace in Northern Ireland will collapse.

As Prime Minister, Sir Tony negotiated the Good Friday Agreement which brought an end to the sectarian violence and allowed the Northern Ireland Assembly to be set up.

But with Stormont unable to sit because of the objections by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), amid a row over the protocol which is undermining the peace process, the Tony Blair Institute has produced a six point plan to end the impasse.

So far in the talks, the EU have refused to compromise on the Protocol which has forced Boris Johnson’s Government to act unilaterally.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced in May that a bill to amend the agreement and prevent shelves at supermarkets going empty will be brought forward shortly.

In response the eU have threatened a trade war with Britain.

Sir Tony said there was a “state of distrust” which means the bureaucrats need to be removed from the talks.

He wrote: “It is in the interests of broader European harmony and trade – especially at a time when Europe, including the UK, has come together impressively over Ukraine – that both the EU and the UK show maximum flexibility in order to reach an agreement over Northern Ireland. 

“My judgement – with long experience of EU negotiations – is that things have reached such a state of distrust that the two bureaucratic systems will not settle this; it has to be done at the highest political level because, ultimately, it is not a matter of technical work but political will and leadership.”

Fixing the Northern Ireland Protocol: The Way Forward outlines a possible landing zone for agreement that would address the problems the protocol presents and make the agreement more stable and durable.

The paper by TBI’s senior fellow Anton Spisak sets out a way through that will require far greater engagement from leaders at the highest levels than we have seen in the past few months. The current approach has squandered goodwill, damaged trust and raised concerns about each side’s intentions, as the paper details. 

The six areas the paper urges leaders to address are:

  • Agree a “Northern Ireland approved” goods designation, exempting goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland from regulatory checks and customs requirements necessary under EU law, provided that these goods categories meet a small number of requirements. 
  • Develop a robust surveillance and enforcement system to prevent non-compliance. 
  • Create a governance arrangement to manage future barriers to trade. 
  • Give Northern Irish and UK representatives greater consultative opportunities on draft EU laws that apply to Northern Ireland. 
  • Extend the arbitration-based dispute-settlement mechanism from the Withdrawal Agreement to the trade-related parts of the protocol. 
  • Keep the question of substance separate from legal form.

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Mr Spisak said:  “With its latest plans to introduce domestic legislation overriding the Northern Ireland Protocol, the British government is giving the EU an ultimatum – agree to renegotiate the Protocol, or we will suspend it unilaterally.

“Acting unilaterally will not only put the UK in breach of its international commitments, but it will also put a halt to any serious efforts to fix the protocol for a very long time.

“There is a viable compromise to be struck between the UK and the EU, but the key challenge is how to get there politically.

“Credible solutions are only possible with a change in the political attitude from both sides and a structured negotiating process to explore the viability of concrete solutions.

“The risk now is that the tactical posturing overtakes pragmatism, with the UK not accepting responsibility for the agreement that it negotiated and signed and the European leaders unwilling to signal more flexibility within EU rules for the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland. If this happens, the Protocol will remain a thorn in the side of their mutual relations for the years to come.”

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