The EU has refused to engage with a demand by the UK government to take the European Court of Justice out of the Northern Ireland Brexit deal.
British minister Lord Frost had demanded changes to the protocol which would have stopped the bloc’s top court having the final say over disputes – despite signing up to exactly that just two years ago.
But the change was notably absent from proposals to overhaul the Northern Ireland deal published by the EU on Wednesday evening.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels Maros Sefcovic, the EU’s Brexit lead told reporters: “It’s very clear that we cannot have access to the single market without the supervision of the European Court of Justice.”
Under the deal Northern Ireland gets special access to EU markets in order to keep the brother with the Republic of Ireland open. But the protocol, which was the subject of intense negotiations over a period of years, has been causing problems for trade with Great Britain over the Irish Sea, and the UK has demanded changes to it.
Mr Sefcovic said the EU had produced a "robust package of creative, practical solutions designed to help Northern Ireland deal with the consequences of Brexit” and revealed he had invited Lord Frost to lunch on Friday to discuss them.
But he refused to drawn on the UK declaration that the jurisdiction of the court was a red line, stating: “I think our aim today is to stay on positive a note, to stay on the benefits which this package, and which of the dual market access is offering to Northern Ireland.
“I believe that will be presented today is such an appealing picture that we will really focus all our constructive and creative energy on how to make this as good as possible for the people and businesses in Northern Ireland. So I want to focus on that positive agenda, I want to focus on the solutions, and I hope that Lord frost will join me in that.”
Mr Sefcovic said that in all discussions with people in Northern Ireland about the protocol the issue the ECJ had been raised just once. The EU’s Brexit chief, who took over the role after Michel Barnier retired, said the bloc had “turned our rules upside down and inside out" to find new solutions.
The European Commission proposals unveil on Wednesday afternoon would see a 80 per cent reduction in spot checks on food crossing the Irish Sea, and a streamlining of the certificates lorry drivers must present from as many as a hundred to just one.
Restrictions on "chilled meats" such as sausages would also be relaxed, customs paperwork on manufactured goods halved, and restrictions on moving medicines across the Irish Sea would be done away with.
And the Commission says the light-touch approach will only work if the UK follows through on its earlier commitments to build new border control posts and give Brussels real-time access to trade data.
Responding to the proposals, a UK government spokesperson said: “The EU have now published their proposals in response to those in our Command Paper. We are studying the detail and will of course look at them seriously and constructively.
"The next step should be intensive talks on both our sets of proposals, rapidly conducted, to determine whether there is common ground to find a solution.
“Significant changes which tackle the fundamental issues at the heart of the Protocol, including governance, must be made if we are to agree a durable settlement which commands support in Northern Ireland.
“We need to find a solution which all sides can get behind for the future, which safeguards the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, and which puts the UK-EU relationship on a stronger footing. We are ready to work hard with this in mind."
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