The proposal comes after the UK said the current policy on Northern Ireland – known as the Protocol – should be shredded.
The European Union has offered to reduce customs checks and paperwork on British products destined for the boycott of Northern Ireland in hopes of avoiding a new clash with the United Kingdom over Brexit.
The offer was part of a broad set of proposals designed to solve problems in post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland, which London says is re-igniting tensions between the communities.
On Wednesday, a team of European Union negotiators handed over the plans to London, a day after Brexit Secretary David Frost said current policy on Northern Ireland – known as the Protocol – should be shredded.
The EU executive said the measures could cut customs processing in half and reduce inspections of meat, dairy and other food products coming into Northern Ireland from mainland Britain by 80 per cent. The new rules will ensure that the flow of medicines, particularly generic medicines, is not disturbed.
I have listened to and reached out to stakeholders in Northern Ireland. “Today’s proposals are our real response to their concerns,” said European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic.
“We look forward to engaging seriously and extensively with the UK government, for the benefit of all communities in Northern Ireland,” he said.
Although the EU has said it refuses to renegotiate the protocol, a statement said the plans were a “different model” for its implementation and would “greatly” facilitate trade problems.
Protocol design has been the biggest source of contention in the UK’s long-running divorce from the European Union after it voted to leave the bloc in 2016.
At stake is the preservation of peace and stability on the island of Ireland, which is divided between the European Union member, the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom.
Since the start of Brexit trade arrangements in January, the UK has been nervous about the terms of the protocol it signed and accepted in its divorce that created a de facto internal trade border.
The agreement required new port checkpoints to prevent the risk of goods from England, Scotland and Wales entering the EU through the back door.
But the British government points to the pro-UK unionists in Northern Ireland who fear the checkpoints will strengthen the pro-Ireland republican case for a united Ireland and create division within the UK.
London has requested a complete rewrite of the protocol, including removing the EU court’s role in resolving disputes under its terms, which is not a start for Brussels.
To ease the frictions, the European Union issued four texts that focused on a number of issues, including complaints of poor drug supplies, redundant food safety checks and too much paperwork.
The European Union said the solutions combined would create a “fast corridor” for the transport of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
She noted that “strict monitoring and enforcement” would remain at all times in order to protect the EU from health and security threats.
The proposals would solve, for example, the so-called “sausage war” in which UK authorities accused the European Union of immaculate food safety rules that would deprive Northern Ireland of refrigerated meat.
To keep British-made sausages on the shelves, the UK unilaterally extended post-Brexit grace periods that allowed them to be imported into Northern Ireland.
The European Union has suspended its legal action against the United Kingdom over this case.
Sefcovic said the package should not be seen as a “take it or leave it” offer, but rather the basis of a joint agreement with the UK. However, he assured that there would be no next package if this was refused.
Looming on the talks is Article 16 of the protocol – which gives either side the right to say it wants to suspend parts of the trade arrangement if they think it is flawed.
The UK has threatened to use this clause if the EU does not change its position on not renegotiating the protocol.
Activating Article 16 will start a lengthy legal process by which the EU can respond with trade action against the UK.