DUBLIN – British authorities have failed to erect fully functioning customs and sanitary checks on goods arriving into Northern Ireland and aren’t giving EU officials live sight as promised, European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič said Tuesday.
Šefčovič told the Irish parliament by video link that European authorities must gain full visibility on existing processes in Northern Ireland’s primary border control posts (BCPs) at the ports of Belfast and Larne. He said it wouldn’t be practical to consider granting further “flexibilities” on EU customs checks, as Britain demands, until this happens.
Šefčovič has been involved in ongoing talks with the U.K. to try and resolve problems with the Northern Ireland protocol, a key part of the Brexit agreement aimed at avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and preserving the Good Friday peace agreement.
He said EU officials on the ground at both ports have reported myriad failures to enforce basic obligations of the protocol, which requires EU-compliant customs and SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) checks to be conducted at Northern Ireland entry points for goods shipments from Britain.
“We still see very few identity checks [and a] very limited number of physical checks, other than on live animals and plants,” he said.
The agreement also requires British food suppliers to Northern Ireland to maintain EU labeling rules on those goods, and for any items destined for sale in Northern Ireland supermarkets to be explicitly labeled as such. This is to prevent food that violates EU standards from entering the bloc’s single market. The protocol keeps U.K. member Northern Ireland within that single market to avoid enforcing customs checks on its land border with the Republic.
“We agreed on certain packaging labels, and again this is not done as we agreed upon,” he said.
Šefčovič said the U.K. had failed to give EU officials access to its online scrutiny and certification of goods arriving in Northern Ireland, particularly its Customs Declaration Service (CDS).
“We would need access to the IT systems as we agreed, and as the U.K. unilaterally declared in December that they will do. We still do not have access to these real-time operations in the IT systems,” he said.
As a result, he said, the EU was handicapped in its efforts to help craft solutions to red-tape barriers that have spurred many British manufacturers and distributors to stop shipping to Northern Ireland customers.
Even on the less onerous declarations required on goods shipments from Northern Ireland to Britain, Šefčovič said U.K. authorities weren’t enforcing those rules either. Documents presented by hauliers on Irish Sea ferries “have to include the equivalent information that an export declaration usually would have. This is also not happening. I could go on and on,” he said.
He said the EU wanted to identify solutions in the coming week, leading to a further meeting by February 24 involving him and Michael Gove, the U.K. Cabinet Office Minister.
A politician from the Irish nationalist Sinn Féin party urged Šefčovič to remain “vigilant” on British implementation of the protocol.
“It’s been the bitter experience of the Irish when dealing with the British that they are fundamentally untrustworthy,” John Brady said. “It is their practice to make an agreement and immediately either to ignore key parts … or to negotiate downwards.”
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