Officials close to talks on what may be the most contentious post-Brexit treaty say a deal could be announced in weeks. London negotiators have bowed down to their Brussels counterparts over the Northern Ireland Protocol, granting the European Court of Justice (ECJ) the role of ultimate arbiter on issues relating to EU law in this part of the UK, according to two sources from both sides of the table. These, cited in The Daily Telegraph, said that “a pact is set to be revealed within two weeks.”
The four figures added that while goods shipped between Britain and Northern Ireland (that is, from one part of the UK to another), will not face physical customs checks, Brussels will maintain the upper hand on legal challenges relating to trade through the ECJ. London officials, it appears, have failed to persuade the EU to budge on this point, raising objections which were “dismissed” in talks earlier this year.
The Telegraph noted that should Eurosceptic Tory MPs be left unimpressed by any impending deal, this could “reopen old wounds within the party and threaten to mire [Prime Minister Rishi] Sunak’s premiership in a fresh round of Brexit battles in the [House of] Commons.” Former Conservative MEP David Bannerman went so far as to suggest that a “bad deal” could result in ministerial resignations and possibly even “a huge boost to the prospect of a Boris [Johnson] return later this year.”
An inkling of a deal came a day after Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove was accused of ‘selling out’ on Brexit by attending a “secret meeting” with senior Labour figures to discuss improving UK-EU relations. In its printed edition of February 13th, The Times reported that “some in government expressed frustration that Gove’s attendance will make it harder to sell a deal to Eurosceptics, who have a ‘deep, constant expectation of betrayal.’”
The paper cited “sources close to Gove” who insisted the meeting had “nothing to do with talks with the EU about the Northern Ireland Protocol.” But whatever the accuracy of this claim, businessman and former MEP Ben Habib said there was “no chance whatsoever” of the protocol talks “resulting in an acceptable settlement.” He told The European Conservative that this is because
[EU Commission Vice President Maroš] Šefčovič’s mandate from Brussels requires no changes to be made to the protocol itself. All he has the authority to agree on are mechanisms to reduce the friction in trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Whatever their outcome, there will still be a trade barrier down the middle of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland that will be subject to foreign laws made by a foreign legislature and enforced by a foreign court.
The Supreme Court ruled that British citizens in Northern Ireland are not on an equal footing with those in Great Britain. That will remain the case with any deal which emerges from these latest negotiations.
HMG knows all this. It also knows the only rightful and sensible place to put the customs border is where the border already exists between Northern Ireland and the Republic. It will not do this because this Tory government fears more the EU than it cares for the integrity of our country.
The blame for any such bad deal, harmful to the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Mr. Habib added, lies with“Messrs Johnson, Sunak, [Foreign Secretary James] Cleverly and [Northern Ireland Secretary Chris] Heaton-Harris.” These, he said, “are all in gross dereliction of duty.”
Responding to reports of a possible deal, a UK government spokesman said: “Talks between UK and EU technical teams are ongoing, with more talks due on potential solutions across all areas.”