‘No role’ for EU court in Northern Ireland disputes, says UK Brexit minister

LONDON — There can be “no role” for the Court of Justice of the European Union as “the final arbiter of disputes” between the EU and U.K. in Northern Ireland, Britain’s David Frost said ahead of another round of talks on post-Brexit trade rules in the region.

The U.K. Brexit minister told a parliamentary committee Monday that gaps between the two sides on the controversial Northern Ireland protocol “remain significant,” especially when it comes to dispute resolution and state aid — key aspects of the deal the British government wants to change but which the European Commission is refusing to revisit.

Frost was speaking to the House of Commons EU scrutiny committee as officials from the EU and U.K. prepare for another round of talks on making the Northern Ireland protocol less burdensome for businesses and citizens in the region.

The Northern Ireland protocol was drawn up to protect the EU’s single market post-Brexit while avoiding a politically-sensitive hard border between Northern Ireland, part of the U.K., and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member country.

But the arrangement has proven deeply unpopular with Northern Ireland’s unionist politicians, while the U.K. government has argued it causes unnecessary bureaucracy for goods moving from Great Britain to the region.

Britain plans to use this week of talks in London to explain its proposals to remove the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) from dispute resolution in Northern Ireland, according to a U.K. official. The models London is proposing are detailed in a legal text submitted to Brussels earlier this month, which has not yet been released.

“What we’d like to see instead is an arbitration mechanism which is normal in these sort of treaties, it is exactly what we have in the Trade and Co-operation Agreement,” Frost told the committee, referring to the post-Brexit TCA struck between the EU and U.K. “The arrangements in the TCA are good arrangements,” he said, arguing that its dispute resolution mechanisms would offer “a good model in this case too.”

The U.K. minister insisted Britain is not interested in any arrangements which keep the court in place by another name, arguing it is “highly unusual in an international treaty to have disputes settled in the court of one of the parties.”

“That is the fundamental principle that we take into this, and the fundamental thing we need to remove from the arrangements going forward,” he added.

Frost expressed doubt that the latest package of proposals put forward by EU officials earlier this month delivers “the kind of ambitious freeing-up of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland that we want to see.”

The U.K.’s Brexit point-man was also quizzed on delays to Britain’s association to the EU’s research and development program Horizon Europe, and told lawmakers the hold-up did not make for “a very happy state of play.”

He warned it would be “a breach” of the TCA if the U.K. cannot join Horizon Europe soon, and suggested Brussels may be postponing the U.K.’s association because of the wider political row over Brexit.

“It does raise questions of good faith now, as far as we are concerned,” Frost said. “We have waited quite a long time and not made a great deal of this in the hope that it would fall into place. But it is now the best part of the year. U.K. entities can’t participate and the EU is depriving itself of the big net contribution that we would otherwise be making. It’s hard to see why they would do that if there isn’t wider politics behind this.”

Frost and the Commission’s Vice President Maroš Šefčovič will take stock of this week’s talks at a meeting in London on Friday.

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