UK

Michael Gove backs down and allows Brussels to have officials permanently based on Northern Ireland

EU can base staff in Northern Ireland: Michael Gove backs down and allows Brussels to have officials permanently based on island to oversee checks on goods

  • Michael Gove agreed to concession last night as two sides finalised the plan
  • It came as part of a deal with EU on how province’s borders will work next month 
  • Downing Street confirmed PM would drop his threat to break international law
  • Government said it would remove contentious clauses from Internal Market Bill 

Brussels will be allowed to have its officials permanently based in Northern Ireland to oversee checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea.

Michael Gove agreed to the concession last night as part of a deal with the EU on how the province’s borders will operate from next month when the Brexit transition period ends.

After the two sides finalised the plan yesterday, Downing Street confirmed that Boris Johnson would drop his threat to break international law.

The Government said it would remove contentious clauses from the Internal Market Bill that would have given ministers the power to over-ride parts of the withdrawal agreement signed by the Prime Minister and EU leaders last year.

Agreement: Michael Gove and Maros Sefcovic yesterday. The Cabinet Office Minister agreed to the concession as part of a deal with the EU on how the province’s borders will operate

Cabinet Office Minister Mr Gove and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic have been holding talks on how parts of the treaty relating to Northern Ireland will work in practice.

Their discussions are separate from the post-Brexit trade deal talks which remain deadlocked, but the agreement could improve relations between the two negotiating teams.

Under the terms, which Mr Gove will set out to MPs today, the Government has agreed that the EU can have officials stationed in Northern Ireland to supervise checks on goods arriving from Great Britain.

In a briefing for MEPs, Mr Sefcovic said up to 30 EU officials will be based there, and they will have access to UK databases.

The UK insisted that the arrangement marked a climbdown for Brussels from its previous request to have a ‘mini embassy’ in the province.

A Government source said: ‘The EU do have the right under the Northern Ireland protocol [in the withdrawal agreement] to supervise processes conducted by UK authorities, which we will of course support.

After the two sides finalised the plan yesterday, Downing Street confirmed that Boris Johnson (pictured on Tuesday) would drop his threat to break international law

After the two sides finalised the plan yesterday, Downing Street confirmed that Boris Johnson (pictured on Tuesday) would drop his threat to break international law

‘But there will be no mini-embassy, no mission, no building with a flag or brass plaque.’

The agreement removes the threat of a blockade preventing British sausages and burgers being sent to Northern Ireland from next month, although a long-term arrangement is yet to be finalised.

The two sides have also sorted out other issues including border checks on animals, export declarations and the supply of medicines. Mr Gove and Mr Sefcovic finalised the agreement yesterday after a nine-hour long meeting in Brussels on Monday.

Mr Sefcovic claimed last night that the UK had backed down over its threat to over-ride the withdrawal agreement following pressure from US President-elect Joe Biden.

He told MEPs that ‘the clear signals’ from the incoming US administration convinced Mr Johnson to strip out the clauses that had angered Brussels.

Mr Sefcovic (pictured above) claimed last night that the UK had backed down over its threat to over-ride the withdrawal agreement following pressure from US President-elect Joe Biden

Mr Sefcovic (pictured above) claimed last night that the UK had backed down over its threat to over-ride the withdrawal agreement following pressure from US President-elect Joe Biden

According to sources present at the meeting, he said: ‘They knew how bad a signal this sent to his European partners and not only to us. They also recorded clear signals coming from the new US administration about the political consequences of not having properly implemented the withdrawal agreement.’

A Government source said: ‘We always said that the UK Internal Market Bill clauses were a safety net in case we failed to reach a satisfactory position on export declarations, “at risk” goods [items that could be moved into the EU via Northern Ireland], and the protocol’s state aid provisions. The fact that we have agreed to remove the relevant clauses underscores that we consider these issues and other outstanding concerns resolved. We got what we wanted.’

The Internal Market Bill has hung like a cloud over Brexit trade talks since ministers admitted the planned changes would break international law.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis stunned MPs when he confirmed in September that the proposals to limit the role of the EU in the province after Brexit would breach the withdrawal agreement.

Last night Amanda Pinto QC, chairman of the Bar Council said: ‘We are very pleased that the Government has pulled back from its plans to breach international law.’

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