top of page

EU offers to reduce Northern Ireland border checks to ‘a couple of lorries a day’

Brexit chief extends olive branch in effort to bring UK back to negotiating table in long-running dispute.

Brexit border checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland could be reduced to a 'couple of lorries a day', according to the EU's Maros Sefcovic.

The European Commission vice-president, who leads the bloc's negotiations over arrangements for Northern Ireland, claimed a trade border would be 'invisible' under his plans.

Mr Sefcovic is eyeing a breakthrough in the deadlock between Westminster and Brussels over the Northern Ireland Protocol before the end of next month.

Talks between the EU and Britain over the Protocol row ground to a halt earlier this year after discussions about how to fix problems with the Brexit agreement achieved little.

New Prime Minister Liz Truss has vowed to push through new laws at Westminster to tear up parts of the existing Protocol, which has caused a furious Brussels to launch legal action.

But Mr Sefcovic said he was 'encouraged' by Ms Truss's statement last Wednesday - the day after she succeeded Boris Johnson - that her preference was still for a 'negotiated solution'.

Physical customs checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland have been required by the EU under the implementation of the Protocol.

The agreement, which is designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, allows Northern Ireland to effectively remain in the EU's Single Market.

Both the UK Government and Unionists in Northern Ireland have attacked the 'bureaucratic' checks being imposed on goods moving across the Irish Sea.

The DUP have also refused to rejoin a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland until the Protocol - which they insist threatens Northern Ireland's place in the UK - is reformed.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Sefcovic said the trade border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland would be 'invisible' under European Commission proposals - if the UK handed over real-time data on trade.

'If the data are downloaded into the system, when the goods are put on the ferry from Britain . . . I believe that we can remotely process them while sailing to Northern Ireland,' he said.

Mr Sefcovic added that physical checks would only be conducted 'when there is reasonable suspicion of . . . illegal trade smuggling, illegal drugs or dangerous toys or poisoned food'.

He insisted this would typically be a 'couple of lorries a day'.

According to the newspaper, the EU official said there was almost no difference between the UK demand for 'no checks' and Brussels' offer of 'minimum checks, done in an invisible manner'.

New elections are due in Northern Ireland unless a new power-sharing administration can be formed before 28th October.

'We stand ready to work in an open and constructive and intensive way,' Mr Sefcovic added.

'I also would prefer to work around the tight deadlines because I am fully aware of the dates which will be coming by the end of October.'

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the Financial Times there was 'the prospect of renewed negotiations' over the Protocol between the UK and EU.

'I think that would require a change of stance from the EU,' he said.

'They need to recognise that if we are to arrive at a solution it requires them to accept, and respect, the integrity of the UK, its internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it.'


bottom of page