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UK seeks Northern Ireland rewrite of Brexit deal

The British government has urged the EU to rethink the part of the Brexit deal that governs trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. But the European Commission has refused such requests in the past.

Flames and smoke rise from car set a fire during protests as rioters hurled petrol bombs, fireworks and stones at police amid unrest since Wednesday, in Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 09, 2021.

Tensions rose in April when protests over the Brexit border arrangements turned violent


The British government on Wednesday asked the EU to rewrite part of the Brexit deal both sides agreed to last year, arguing that its impact on trade between the mainland and Northern Ireland is threatening the "fabric" of the United Kingdom.

Speaking to the House of Lords, David Frost, the Brexit minister, said it was creating unrest in the province and was hampering business.

He said there was a "growing sense in Northern Ireland we have not found the right balance, seen in an ongoing febrile political climate, protests and regrettable instances of occasional disorder."

David Frost

Lord Frost called on the EU to change parts of the deal that he negotiated last year

The former British diplomat told the UK Parliament's upper house that "we cannot go on as we are."

There were clashes between pro-Republican and pro-Unionists groups in Belfast earlier this year when the row first flared up.

The future relationship trade deal between the EU and the UK sets out the rules that helps avoid border checks on the island of Ireland.

Watch video 04:59

Post-Brexit tensions in Northern Ireland

It puts Northern Ireland inside the EU's single market, effectively creating a trade frontier down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Some British newspapers have dubbed the row with the European Commission "a sausage war"because ministers fear that chilled meats made in Great Britain will not be able to be sold in Northern Ireland.

A recently agreed grace period to avoid implementing the full terms of the deal expires at the end of September.

The row is also being watched by the Biden administration, which has urged the UK to respect its commitments under a 1998 peace deal known as the Belfast Agreement.

What changes is the UK asking for?

A policy proposal paper put forward by the UK is that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) no longer acts as the ultimate arbiter on any disputes regarding Northern Ireland.

The British government wants a more independent arbitration panel, fearing that the ECJ will make rulings that favor Brussels rather than London.  

Another proposed change concerns customs checks. In essence, the UK wants British goods which will only be sold in Northern Ireland — not then being moved into the EU single market — to be spared customs checks. 

Watch video 02:36

Northern Ireland entrepreneurs face new challenges

A third is that goods, such as medicines, that are approved for sale in the UK but not in the EU would still be allowed to be sold in Northern Ireland. 

Currently there are shortages of medicines on the shelves in Northern Ireland because certain drugs are approved for sale in the UK but not in the EU. 

What did the UK say about Gibraltar?

Meanwhile, on the UK's only mainland European border at Gibraltar, a European treaty which forecast the possibility of a free-flowing frontier could be on the verge of collapse.

UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said on Tuesday that the negotiating mandate drafted by the European Commission "seeks to undermine the UK's sovereignty over Gibraltar, and cannot form a basis for negotiations."

Raab urged the EU to "think again" over a mandate which gives Spain, that has a sovereignty claim over the Rock, full control of air and sea border control surveillance. Under the December framework agreement, the UK and Spain agreed Frontex would manage border controls.

The Gibraltarꞌs other issues with mandate, include the need for Gibraltar to introduce VAT when it thrives on duty free tourism and giving the Spanish power to decide who lives in the British overseas territory.

The Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the "stillborn" mandate was "entirely unacceptable" in an interview with Gibraltar's local television channel GBC on Wedneday.

Gibraltar now faces the possibility of being the only part of the UK to get a hard Brexit if the EU does not change its tune.

jf/msh (AFP, Reuters)