Blog: Brexit: EU’s Sefcovic offers to reduce NI border controls to ‘couple of lorries a day’ – The Independent

The EU’s Brexit chief Maros Sefcovic has said he wants to reduce physical customs checks across the Irish Sea to just a few lorries a day in a bid to break the impasse over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The European Commission vice president urged Liz Truss to restart post-Brexit negotiations and drop her highly-controversial plan to override protocol unilaterally with new legislation.

Mr Sefcovic said the EU was willing to compromise, but he was willing to resume talks on the basis of proposals to cut protocol checks set out last October.

Physical checks on GB-NI goods would only be carried out when there is reasonable suspicion of illegal trade smuggling, illegal drugs, dangerous items or poisoned food, Mr Sefcovic told the Financial Times.

“If the data are downloaded into the system, when the goods are put on the ferry from Britain … I believe we can remotely process them while sailing to Northern Ireland,” he added.

Mr Sefcovic said it would mean typically mean checks on a “couple of lorries a day” – adding that there was almost no difference between the UK demand for “no checks” and the EU’s offer of “minimum checks, done in an invisible manner”.

Ms Truss’s Northern Ireland Protocol bill – designed to stop checks on goods agreed in the Brexit deal – sparked outrage in Brussels and the start of legal action, as well as warnings from British business groups of a potential trade war ahead.

The government wants to scrap current protocol rules with a new system that would create green and red channels differentiating between GB goods destined for use in NI and shipments bound to go across the Irish border.

Mr Sefcovic said he was “encouraged” by Ms Truss’s comments since that her preference was still for a negotiated settlement.

Though the new PM also told parliament that any agreement “does have to deliver all of the things we set out in the Northern Ireland protocol bill.”

The European Commission VP said: “We stand ready to work in an open and constructive and intensive way,” pointing to a looming deadline for the political stand-off in Northern Ireland.

With the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refusing to re-join power-sharing arrangements, elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly will be called on 28 October if the impasse remains.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said any “renewed negotiations” would still require “a change of stance” from the EU. “They need to recognise that, if we are to arrive at a solution, it requires them to accept, and respect, the integrity of the UK, its internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it.”

The respected Brexit analyst Mujtaba Rahman, a managing director at the Eurasia Group, said senior UK officials told him that Mr Sefcovic’s offer “doesn’t go far enough and isn’t particularly new”.

British officials have pointed out that the aim of the green lane “is to eliminate all paperwork on goods going from GB to NI – not just physical checks”, the analyst added.

Ms Truss’s new Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said last week that he believes there is still a “fairly obvious landing zone for the negotiations” with the EU.

He told MPs: “I very much hope and believe that is the case today. I think everything can be sorted out by negotiations, but we do have legislation which we will use if not.”

Ms Truss told PMQs: “We do need to fix the issues of the Northern Ireland protocol which has damaged the balance between the communities in Northern Ireland. I am determined to get on in doing that.”

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