EU concessions could ease post-Brexit rift
Bloc hopes London will welcome fewer customs checks but UK asked for more
A showdown between the United Kingdom and the European Union about their post-Brexit relationship drew nearer on Wednesday when the bloc unveiled concessions that London looks set to find inadequate.
The concessions, which would reduce bureaucracy around the shipping of products from the UK mainland to the UK province of Northern Ireland, would streamline a system that London has said it wants to ditch and renegotiate.
The concessions would half the number of customs and regulatory checks needed under the current Northern Ireland Protocol.
But London has said any tinkering would still leave part of the UK being treated differently to the rest.
The issue has been difficult to solve because both London and Brussels have said they want to avoid a hard border between EU member the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
When the UK left the EU, both sides agreed to avoid that hard border by treating Northern Ireland as if it remained a member of the EU, and part of the bloc's single market for goods.
But London has since changed its mind, saying the Northern Ireland Protocol creates a new barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The UK has also said oversight of any deal should be carried out by an independent entity and not the EU's top court.
David Frost, the UK's Brexit minister, said this week the bloc would be making a "historic misjudgment" if it does not renegotiate the protocol.
"We have a short, but real, opportunity to put in place a new arrangement, to defuse the political crisis that is brewing, both in Northern Ireland and between us," The Guardian newspaper quoted him as telling the EU.
But the Financial Times quoted Mairead McGuinness, the Republic of Ireland's EU commissioner, as saying the concessions offer solutions to "the real practical problems" faced by businesses on the island of Ireland, and the bloc called the concessions "far-reaching".
Simon Coveney, the Republic of Ireland's foreign minister, said they reflect "months of hard work, careful listening across Northern Ireland, and will deliver practical solutions to make the protocol work better".
The BBC quoted him as saying: "I hope the UK government is serious about moving on in partnership."
Aodhan Connolly, from the Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group, welcomed them.
"A lot of what is coming out … is indeed very close to what the NI Business Brexit Working Group has been asking for," he wrote on Twitter.
Oliver Dowden, the chairman of the UK's ruling Conservative Party, told Sky News the British government will not reject the concessions out of hand.
"We will look at them and engage properly with them," he said.
The BBC said the UK and the EU will likely continue talking for "several weeks" before either finding common ground, or walking away from the table and possibly triggering a trade war. Adam Fleming, the BBC's chief political correspondent, said decision time will likely come in mid-November.