is very trust-based,” he added. “I must say that with this bill, presented after 18 months of discussions, confidence is seriously undermined.
Šefčovič’s stern warning comes two days after Downing Street unveiled a bill to revoke parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the bespoke regime that currently allows trade in goods between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, a member state of the EU.
The protocol ensures that the land border between the two sides remains invisible and respects the peace accord that ended decades of sectarian violence. Northern Ireland follows EU customs rules, continues to be part of the single market for goods and applies EU VAT (Value Added Tax) legislation to avoid border checks between the two parts.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Foreign Secretary Liz Truss argue the arrangement is unworkable and threatens the UK’s territorial integrity because it creates a new border in the Irish Sea.
The new bill presented by Truss proposes a green route to remove customs checks for goods coming from Great Britain and destined for the Northern Irish market only. A red channel would handle goods originating in Britain, transiting through Northern Ireland and entering the EU through the Republic of Ireland.
The government also wants Northern Ireland to enjoy the same tax benefits as the rest of the UK, including VAT, and replace the authority of the European Court of Justice with “independent arbitration”.
Šefčovič says the bill would exacerbate legal uncertainty in the region, “bury” small and medium-sized businesses under a “new pile of bureaucracy” and increase the risk of contraband goods entering the EU.
“The bill is illegal. It is contrary to international law,” he noted. “We don’t consider this a serious offer.”
“Since March last year,” he continued, “we have not seen any constructive proposals from the UK. We have just seen that a difficult new issue has been brought to the table “.
In the Vice President’s view, Downing Street’s latest proposal is “highly politically motivated”, a veiled reference to the political struggles and falling popularity Johnson is facing in the UK.
Earlier this month, Johnson survived a vote of no confidence, but with a narrower-than-expected margin of victory.
“We are not looking for political victory in Northern Ireland,” said Šefčovič. “We just want these issues resolved in a way that cements what I hope will be a good and prosperous relationship with the UK again.” —Euronews