Under the terms of the deal, Northern Ireland will continue to follow some EU rules on agricultural and manufactured goods, despite the fact that the UK is leaving the EU’s customs union. This will necessitate customs checks and in order to prevent a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, the EU and Britain had agreed that those checks will be carried out at Northern Ireland’s ports. However, on Wednesday, the UK government said it “sees no need to construct new bespoke customs infrastructure in NI”, even though it confirmed that there will be checks on some goods entering NI from the UK.
In reply, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney told reporters: “There is going to need to be a lot of technical discussion around the commitments that were made in this plan today.
“It’s quite straightforward in relation to things like live animals, but I think the really tricky area will be around customs.”
He added: “I think there will be a lot of sceptical people in the EU when they hear the British government say there will be no new physical infrastructure around customs in Northern Ireland or in Great Britain facing Northern Ireland.”
The Northern Ireland protocol is supposed to be up and running by January and has to be applied even if the EU and the UK fail to reach a trade deal.
The government said the protocol could “be implemented in a pragmatic, proportionate way”.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told the Commons on Wednesday: “Implementing the protocol in this way will ensure we can support businesses and citizens, and protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s customs territory while upholding our commitments to the EU’s Single Market.
“Northern Ireland will benefit fully from its access to the UK and EU markets.”
London and Brussels are currently locked in talks over a new trade agreement between the UK and the EU.
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On Tuesday, Michael Gove waded into the debate, saying the EU “wants us to obey the rules of their club, essentially, even though we are no longer members”.
He implied that Brussels was discriminating against the UK and had been more reasonable in trade talks with other nations.
However, trade experts dismissed these claims, telling the Financial Times that Boris Johnson was trying to have his cake and eat it.
UK director of the European Centre For International Political Economy, a trade think tank, David Henig said: “[The UK is] looking for more than Canada, Korea or Japan in exchange for the same — or probably even less — in terms of level playing field provisions.”
Centre for European Reform research fellow Sam Lowe added: “The British request to have British qualifications recognised by default, subject to terms and conditions, goes far beyond the EU-Japan deal, or the CETA deal with Canada.
“This is not necessarily impossible but it is not the kind of things the EU hands readily in its free trade agreements.”