Saturday, June 3

Frost and Johnson test Šefčovič’s “Mr Nice Guy” act to destruction | John crace

IIt will never catch up. It was too reasonable. After Lord Frost had his tantrum in Lisbon the day before, it was the turn of Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission, to lay out the EU’s proposals to solve the UK’s problems with the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. in a press. conference in Brussels.

Šefčovič could have chosen the nuclear option. He could have started by saying that Lord Frost seemed to want to renegotiate the Northern Ireland protocol that Lord Frost himself had negotiated less than two years earlier. That it would have been helpful for the UK to have spent more time examining the deal they had signed at the time, rather than simply signing any previous deal to achieve Brexit and then waiting to rework the parts that were politically complicated for Brexit supporters hard line. at a later date.

But instead of taking the same combative approach as Frost, Šefčovič chose to play Mr. Nice Guy. He knew that the UK negotiating team had not always been the brightest and had not always understood what they were signing up for, so he was prepared to give them a little more freedom by allowing them a second chance. So this is what he was proposing. As for medicines, he was willing to turn EU legislation “back and forth” to make sure that everyone in Northern Ireland got the medicines they needed with the least amount of hassle.

In agri-food products, the vice president was happy to eliminate 80% of the current controls – he understood Northern Ireland’s need for the delights of a Cumberland sausage – and in customs he would eliminate 50% of the regulations currently in force under the NI protocol . And if it helped, it would set up some focus groups so that businesses and politicians could see that any arbitration in disputes was dealt fairly with the overriding Northern Irish interests.

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Šefčovič looked distressed. It was exhausting being this reasonable with people apparently hell-bent on making the NI protocol fail. He was doing his best to find practical solutions to the problems people had told him they were facing, but he could feel deep down that Frost and the DUP would find something to object to that would undermine any negotiation.

Understandably, most of the questions focused on the role of the European court of justice. The problem Frost had recently decided on was his red line: hell, he needed something to torpedo a deal and that would have to be enough. Šefčovič initially tried to evade the answer. Why couldn’t everyone focus on the positive practicalities that he had just presented to the UK to help them solve their own Brexit mess? After all, he was the one handing out the favors here. It was not the EU that had insisted on the toughest Brexit possible that threatened the Northern Ireland peace process.

But gradually, even Šefčovič’s patience began to wear thin. All he had tried to accomplish was to address the problems that the people of Northern Ireland had told him they were having. And in that time only once had someone mentioned the European court of law to him. And the first time the UK government raised the issue it was as an afterthought in the command document released over the summer. Sure enough, he had been mugged. He had spent time pushing the boundaries of EU law to solve problems for which the UK really did not want a solution. Frost wanted the Northern Ireland protocol to collapse.

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The press conference ended with Šefčovič kindly expounding some homemade truths. Yes, he had tried to break the rules. Yes, he had done everything he could to speed up trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Yes, I had even taken some risks with some products entering the single market from the UK. But the conclusion was that the single market was governed by the ECJ. He had tried to soften that uncomfortable fact to help the UK save face, but if the UK was determined to pull out of a deal that it had happily signed as ‘a great deal for the UK’ not too long ago, then it had to do it. accept reality. Never Frost or Boris’s strong suit.

Šefčovič looked at his diary. He had arranged a lunch with Frost for Friday. That should be fun. No. This one was going to run and run.

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