Whitehall insiders have conceded there is a risk that bloc leaders could also make their own fresh demands for tweaks as part of the overhaul of the protocol to avoid a hard border. Britain and Brussels are at loggerheads over Government demands to rewrite the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland. In a series of proposals, ministers called for the European Union to allow goods that do not meet its standards to continue to be sold in the area and reduce the number of checks on products being sent across the Irish Sea.
Brexit minister Lord Frost has also insisted the bloc must give up its right to take disputes over the post-Brexit border fix to the European Court of Justice.
EU sources have told Express.co.uk that EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic has told colleagues in private briefings the demands amount to renegotiating at least 50 percent of the protocol.
In public, Mr Sefcovic, the EU’s Brexit chief, has rejected the possibility of rewriting the legal text but has promised to find creative solutions to help ease the burden of the customs controls on people and businesses in Northern Ireland.
But UK officials are in no doubt that reopening the protocol, agreed just 18 months ago, would allow EU nations to demand their own changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.
This could mean Spain using the stand-off to squeeze the Government into making concessions in the negotiations over the post-Brexit future of Gibraltar.
Madrid had already used the divorce talks in a desperate attempt to further its claims for sovereignty over the British overseas outpost.
And the Spanish have already infuriated ministers by demanding that the EU insists on having the bloc’s officials stationed in Gibraltar as the price for a trade deal with the Rock.
Eastern European governments could also use wrangling over the Northern Ireland Protocol to make fresh requests for more generous terms for their citizens.
EU states are already pushing the European Commission to consider legal action against the UK if it does not provide better guarantees to citizens of the bloc living in the country since before Brexit.
Countries like Poland and the Czech Republic have long pushed for more better terms when it comes to visas for their citizens in the UK.
Other contentious areas of the divorce deal include the multi-billion euro Brexit settlement and the EU’s ability for its judges to continue legal proceedings against the UK for the foreseeable future.
There is also a lot of issues the Government would like to readdress in the Withdrawal Agreement, sources says.
But Lord Frost believes it is best to ignore these elements and proceed with talks solely based on the Brexit trade rules governing Northern Ireland.
UK and EU officials have already held talks in Brussels this week to discuss Downing Street’s Command Paper.
No10 has praised the EU for pausing legal action against Britain to defuse tensions over trade checks.
The European Commission said the decision not to escalate infringement proceedings was to create the “necessary space” to consider the proposals on how to avoid a hard border.
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An EC spokeswoman said: “The commission will carefully assess the new proposals made by the UK, in accordance with the necessary consultation procedures, both internally and with the European Parliament.
“In order to provide the necessary space to reflect on these issues and find durable solutions to the implementation of the protocol, we have decided at this stage not to move to the next stage of the infringement procedure, started in March.”
Eurocrats had accused the UK of breaching international law by temporarily suspending EU-ordered checks between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.
Ministers argued the delay in enforcing the red tape was to protect supermarket supplies and trade.
Whitehall officials said they have received a “constructive reply” from the Commission in response to the request for a standstill.
A Government spokeswoman added: “We look forward to engaging in talks with the EU in the weeks ahead. Significant changes are needed to ensure the protocol is sustainable for the future.”
Discussions are expected to continue over the summer as a series of deadlines loom – such as an EU ban on the sale of British sausages in Northern Ireland.
The Withdrawal Agreement’s protocol was negotiated because of the region’s land border with the Republic of Ireland in the EU.
To keep the frontier open, Northern Ireland remains in the bloc’s single market, with controls on products shipped from the rest of the UK.