EU poised for HUGE Brexit climbdown as bloc to limit role of judges despite ECJ row

The EU Commission outlined new Brexit measures to slash 80 percent of regulatory checks and dramatically cut customs processes on the movement of goods, especially food and farming produce, between Britain and the island of Ireland.

The Government welcomed the announcement on Wednesday night, signalling that it wants “intensive talks” to follow the EU’s proposals.

At the same time, however, a Government spokesman said there has to be “significant changes” to the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Brexit withdrawal agreement if there is to be a “durable settlement”.

While the range of measures would go some way to reducing everyday friction on trade caused by the Protocol, they do not address the UK demand over the role of the ECJ.

However, reports in The Times suggest Brussels is now also considering taking its concessions to the UK a step further by proposing to restrict the EU’s top court’s role over disputes arising from the Protocol.

Under the terms of the Protocol, which was agreed by the UK and EU as part of the 2020 Withdrawal Agreement, the ECJ would be the final arbitrator in any future trade dispute between the two parties on the operation of it.

The UK wants to remove that provision and replace it with an independent arbitration process.

While the EU does not seem to be prepared to remove the ECJ from the equation altogether, it is considering the introduction of such an arbitration panel before matters reach the ECJ – thus allowing disputes to be resolved outside the EU’s top court.

The scaled-back checking regime proposed by the EU on Wednesday would remove the prospect of certain British produce, including Cumberland sausages, being banned from export to the region.

The EU plan also includes a 50 percent reduction in customs paperwork required to move products into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

In return, the trading bloc has asked for safeguards to be implemented to provide extra assurances that products said to be destined for Northern Ireland do not end up crossing the Irish border.

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These include labelling of certain products, making clear they are for sale in the UK only, and enhanced monitoring of supply chain movements and access to real-time trade flow information.

EU Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said the bloc has put in a lot of hard work to come up with an “alternative model” for implementing the Protocol.

“We have explored every possible angle of the Protocol and, at times, went beyond current EU law,” he told a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday.

He added: “With this robust package of practical, imaginative solutions we can continue to implement the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland for the benefit of all communities on the ground.

“It not only cements stability and predictability, an indispensable ingredient for the local economy to flourish, but also paves the way for enhanced opportunities.”

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UK Brexit minister Lord Frost has made clear the removal of the court’s oversight function in policing the Protocol is a red line for the Government if a compromise deal is to be struck.

Lord Frost has warned that the UK could move to suspend parts of the protocol, by triggering the Article 16 mechanism, if an acceptable compromise cannot be reached.

He insisted the reach of the ECJ is a key issue, telling broadcasters: “The problem with the protocol at the moment is that EU law, with the ECJ as the enforcer of it, is applied in Northern Ireland without any sort of democratic process.

“So that, I think, has to change if we’re to find governance arrangements that people can live with.”

The EU plan amounts to a set of counterproposals in response to a wish list of protocol reforms outlined by the UK Government in July.

The proposals from both sides are now set to form the basis of a new round of negotiations between Brussels and London in the weeks ahead.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed by the UK and EU as a way to sidestep the major obstacle in the Brexit divorce talks – the Irish land border.

It achieved that by shifting regulatory and customs checks and processes to the Irish Sea.