EU ready to make offer to end Northern Ireland border dispute

The European Union is prepared to improve its offer to cut customs checks in Northern Ireland in a bid to secure a new Brexit agreement for the province.

But Maros Sefcovic, a European Commission vice-president, will warn on Friday that a deal will not be possible unless the UK drops its “unattainable” demands on the role of European judges.

The EU’s Brexit negotiator will tell Lord Frost, his British counterpart, that their talks over the Northern Ireland Protocol will fail unless the UK takes a step towards the bloc’s proposals.

The pair will meet for the fourth consecutive week in London on Friday, as part of intensive negotiations over the province’s Brexit arrangements.

‘Far-reaching’ offer

Mr Sefcovic is growing increasingly frustrated at Britain’s failure to engage with his proposals, which remove the need for up to 50 per cent of checks on goods and about 80 per cent of checks for animal and plant health reasons.

The Telegraph understands the Commission vice-president could, however, improve his offer if Lord Frost agrees to shelve his own plans and discuss the bloc’s proposals to cut border controls on British goods sent to Northern Ireland.

"We’ve moved and it’s time for the UK to as well. The percentage of controls removed could yet increase, through negotiation,” a European source said.

The Commission, which negotiates on behalf of EU capitals, believes its proposals are a “far-reaching” offer to end disruption caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol, which effectively created a trade border in the Irish Sea.

But Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, is calling for the treaty, agreed in October 2019, to be completely overhauled – including scrapping the European Court of Justice’s role in policing the agreement.

He has said the Luxembourg-based court’s oversight role in managing disagreements on the protocol must be removed if both sides are going to resolve the stand-off.

Brussels has repeatedly ruled out a wholesale renegotiation of the protocol and insists the court’s powers are non-negotiable, because Northern Ireland has access to the EU Single Market.

Concession needed to break deadlock

Speaking ahead of the talks, a senior Commission official accused Lord Frost of taking a "significant step in the wrong direction" and said the UK would have to drop its demands before a deal can be struck.

“The major step we took needs to be reciprocated," the source added.

“On the question of governance and the Court of Justice, we have always made clear that we thought that the objectives set out by the UK are unattainable.”

Sources close to the negotiations believe an agreement is still possible, but it will require either the UK or EU to make a concession to break the deadlock.

The Commission believes it is now Lord Frost who must move, because the EU has already demonstrated that it is willing to be flexible.

Its negotiators have already agreed to include products being shipped from Britain to restaurants and catering businesses in Northern Ireland on a list of goods that will benefit from the relaxed customs checks.

And the official also insisted the bloc was "determined" to make progress on its proposals to protect the supply of medicines to Northern Ireland.

"We will continue to be solution oriented and will continue to engage in this discussion," the source said.

"We hope that the UK will take the step towards us to allow these talks to succeed."

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