Northern Ireland: Unionists march against Brexit arrangements

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Insiders say Brussels is attempting to “reopen the issue” in order to claw back control over Britain because the bloc’s former Brexit negotiator gave too much away in the wrangling over the future relationship. A UK Government source said: “It’s a policy position of the EU which is about putting the single market beyond all else, and forgetting that these rules apply through the prism of the Protocol, which has a number of other objectives, including minimising the impact on people’s lives and upholding the delicate balance of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.” The claim comes ahead of crunch talks in London on Wednesday over the Brexit deal’s protocol to avoid a hard border.

There is significant tensions over the implementation of customs checks on some goods being shipped between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Whitehall insiders are pessimistic that the wrangling over Northern Ireland will help to cool tensions in the area and the end disruption caused by hardline eurocrats.

Government sources say the EU underestimates Unionist fury over the introduction of customs controls between Britain and Northern Ireland.

To keep the Irish border open, the area effectively remains part of the EU’s single market and some checks are now made on some products arriving from the rest of the UK.

Lord Frost has accused Brussels of risking a flare-up in violence through its bureaucratic approach to Northern Ireland.

The Brexit minister warned the EU’s “legal purism” poses a security threat to the region and is making the situation on the ground “totally unsustainable”.

He will meet his Brussels counterpart Maros Sefcovic for a historic meeting of the UK and EU Partnership Council and Joint Committee.

Ahead of the meeting, Lord Frost said: “We are seeing political turbulence, with the loss of First Minister Arlene Foster, the change of the UUP leadership and street protests. And there are real world impacts on lives and livelihoods.”

The Tory peer insisted suppliers in the UK are “simply not sending their products because of the time-consuming paperwork required”.

He added: “We’ve seen manufacturers of medicines cutting supply. And there is less choice on supermarket shelves for consumers. The NI Retail Consortium has warned that when the grace period ends in October, supermarkets will face ‘real, severe problems’.”

The post-Brexit border fix has triggered a worrying rise in tensions over a disruption in trade.

In response, the EU has proposed that 80 percent of checks could be eliminated if the UK agreed to align to the bloc’s food and animal safety rules.

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But Lord Frost has continuously rejected any plan that would force the UK to be tied to rules set by Brussels.

The Tory peer suggested eurocrats need to learn they simply can’t force their burdensome red tape on the bloc’s neighbours.

He said: “The EU needs a new playbook for dealing with neighbours, one that involves pragmatic solutions between friends, not the imposition of one side’s rules on the other and legal purism.”

One example used in Whitehall is Switzerland’s recent walkout of its trade talks with the EU.

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Bern quit the wrangling over concerns that Brussels was refusing to respect its sovereignty and decision-making powers as a non-EU state.

And now UK officials are concerned that this same tactic is being used in the negotiations over Northern Ireland.

It comes after a number of EU nations were left furious that Mr Barnier didn’t secure enough powers to control swathes of regulations in Britain exchange for quota and tariff-free access to their single market.

Insiders claim that Brussels is attempting to secure over-reaching powers that would influence standards and rules across the entire UK while trying to solve the row over Northern Ireland.

As a result of the row over implementation of the protocol, senior EU officials were said to be considering slapping Britain with punitive sanctions, including retaliatory trade tariffs.

One Brussels insider said: “Our patience is wearing thin, and if this continues, the EU will have to consider all the tools and all the options that are available to us.”

Under the terms of the Brexit trade agreement either side can impose tariffs on the other’s exports for breaching the pact, pending independent arbitration.

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