Friday, October 22, 2021

EU Suits Should Break Out the Hiking Boots and Bone Up on the Brogue

It May beTime for a Reality Check for Naive Diplomats
Shipping News Feature

UK – EUROPE – Last week the European Union, with a publicity flourish, produced its suggestions to resolve the outstanding problems regarding UK trade with Northern Ireland, particularly the Sanitary and Phytosanitary issues which have caused so many problems.

In its announcement the EU claimed that it had collated a package of measures which would cut the number of physical checks, probably the factor that causes the most delays, by some 80%. By proposing a different version of the original Irish Protocol the EU says goods from the UK, and intended to stay in Northern Ireland, would be facilitated to a significant extent.

The EUs College of Commissioners have approved four non-papers (i.e. non-legislative texts) covering several areas. Firstly ‘flexible customs formalities’ to facilitate the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland which the EU claims will cut paperwork by 50%.

Secondly enhanced engagement with Northern Irish stakeholders and authorities. This apparently would require the ‘creation of structured groups with the participation of experts to discuss relevant EU measures that are important for the implementation of the Protocol’.

The third item, the uninterrupted security of the supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland for the long-term, actually offers something from the EU, that is to change its own rules on medicines to allow British pharmaceutical companies supplying NI to continue acting as a hub for the supply of generic medicines for Northern Ireland, even though it is now a third country. And lastly that 80% cut in checks, using a bespoke solution for Northern Ireland on food, plant and animal health matters.

Unfortunately these amendments seem to have been scripted by someone in Brussels or Strasbourg who is either completely ignorant of both the history and geography of Northern Ireland or simply systematically mendacious when talking about Brexit. Take a look at the subtexts involved.

Those ‘flexible Customs formalities’ would require the UK to provide ‘full and real-time access to all of its IT systems’ to EU scrutiny, plainly not something HMRC would be keen on due to the security risks, and with no reciprocal agreement.

The second point is creating those ‘structured groups’ or special committees that bureaucrats love so much. Not publicly viewable however as the Northern Irish stakeholders would only be allowed to attend ‘some’ of the meetings.

The fourth point is the one to make anyone with knowledge of the island of Ireland either laugh out loud or weep with frustration. To produce this immediate 80% cut in delays for the Sanitary and Phytosanitary sector there will need to be, says the EU, a number of conditions and safeguards. This translates as the UK building safe and secure border posts across the country, completely ignoring the reality.

Anyone who has dealt with the Irish market overall knows that reintroducing border posts could likely prove a blue touch paper and start up confrontations almost all had wished away for decades. That EU statement has clearly been devised by someone who, even if they have ever been to Ireland, has not walked the tortuous 300+ mile border route which at some points requires a plank to be laid across a stream to cross.

It is to be hoped that during the ongoing discussions Lord Frost and his team spend a suitable period educating the EU delegations on the realities of the situation, with regard to both the physical, and social truisms that apply here. Perhaps it’s time for the European Union staff to lose the suits, put on the hiking boots and bone up on the brogue before talking this through sensibly.

Photo: The very nature of the Irish border and the deep feelings of residents of both communities seem to be alien to the EU officials charged with these matters.