Boris Johnson’s Brexit demand is impossible and he knows it, says EU vice president

Frans Timmermans said it was ‘extremely well-known in London’ that UK demand could not be met

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Wednesday 03 November 2021 21:38 GMT
Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission, said he hoped the UK didn’t trigger Article 16 of the protocol
Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission, said he hoped the UK didn’t trigger Article 16 of the protocol (AP)

The EU has flat-out rejected a British demand to end any role for European court judges in Northern Ireland.

Speaking on Wednesday evening the European Commission's vice president Frans Timmermans said it was “extremely well-known in London” that the demand to ditch the European Court of Justice could not be met.

UK Brexit minister Lord Frost has said the ECJ should be replaced with an independent arbitration panel and that it can have no role settling disputes in Northern Ireland.

But the EU says this is not possible while Northern Ireland is benefitting from being inside the single market. Under the European Union's founding treaties only the ECJ can interpret EU law.

“I think [Lord] Frost knows very well that this is not possible for the European Union,” Mr Timmermans told ITV’s Peston programme.

“I know he knows full well that whenever the internal market is involved, the ultimate arbitrator is the European Court of Justice.

“This is, I think, extremely well-known in London and instead of talking about red lines, I think it would be more productive to talk about the ideas the European Union came up with.”

The EU chief’s statement is the most explicit yet on the issue of the court, which the bloc has until this point done its best to step around in public.

The UK signed up to the ECJ’s jurisdiction for Northern Ireland when it agreed the protocol two years ago and has only recently started to claim it needs to be scrapped.

Both sides are currently locked in talks to change aspects of the controversial protocol, which has been blamed by unionists, the UK government and others for disrupting trade across the Irish Sea.

The EU last month produced a package of measures to reduce trade checks and form-filling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain – but the UK says it does not go far enough, and has also brought up the largely separate issue of the court. The EU says Northern Irish business leaders do not mention the court as an issue.

Mr Timmermans said the EU’s ideas were “welcomed in Northern Ireland” and would “make things more practicable and easier to deal with”.

“I think those ideas which are meant to make life easier on the business community in Northern Ireland, especially on the citizens on the island of Ireland, should be embraced by the British government, rather than talking about red lines,” he said.

Mr Timmermans also said that a solution was “within reach” – though the UK has threatened to trigger Article 16 of the protocol and effectively suspend it.

Asked about the risks of Boris Johnson triggering Article 16 the EU vice president said: “Well you know as Yogi Berra would say, ‘Let’s burn that bridge when we get there.’ Joking aside, let’s hope this doesn’t happen, let’s hope we can find a way out.

“I believe the European Union has shown, the European Commission has shown, clear willingness to find a compromise. I think we’ve been bending over backwards to offer a solution to the practicalities that people encountered in Northern Ireland.

“Let’s focus on the people and the businesses in Northern Ireland instead of trying to score points off each other on certain issues. Let’s try and solve this. I think a solution is within reach.”

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