The EU and the UK are on a collision course this week over the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the Northern Ireland protocol.
Downing Street has said the ECJ role in ensuring compliance with the rules of the protocol is “a central issue” for the UK, but Irish Government officials said that nobody in Northern Ireland had raised the ECJ as an issue.
A Northern Ireland business group also said that nobody had complained about the ECJ role.
“In all the months since the whole operational plan of the protocol was agreed and throughout this year, no one in business has raised the issue of the ECJ oversight as a problem for them in my presence,” said Stephen Kelly, chief executive of business representative group Manufacturing NI. “It is purely a political and sovereignty issue, and not a practical or business issue.”
But the EU and UK are set to clash on the issue this week. British Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost will set out the UK objections to the ECJ role in a speech in Lisbon on Tuesday, timed in advance of the EU’s publication of its proposals to overcome difficulties with the protocol.
Irish sources familiar with the EU proposals said they would show that the EU “has listened to unionism”.
Irish Government officials say that the EU proposals will eliminate many of the checks and much of the friction associated with the Northern Ireland protocol.
The protocol, agreed as part of the UK’s withdrawal treaty from the EU, has led to some checks on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, as the North applies some EU rules. This has angered some unionists, and the British government has sought a renegotiation of how the protocol works, threatening to unilaterally suspend its application.
Irish Government sources reacted with anger to the news that Lord Frost would raise the role of the European Court of Justice.
“Not a single person in the North has raised the ECJ,” said one source. “[Jeffrey] Donaldson has not raised the ECJ.”
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney expressed further frustration with the British government on Monday, saying each time the EU comes forward with new proposals over the Northern Ireland protocol, “they are dismissed by the UK” before they are published.
“This has been the position all year, each time that the European Union comes forward with new ideas, new proposals to try to solve problems, they’re dismissed before they’re released and that’s happening again this week. But this week it’s even more serious,” he said.