On 30 April, the EU and the UK held their first Specialised Committee meeting on the application and implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
According to a statement issued by the EU, the discussion was conducted in a ‘constructive atmosphere’ in which the parties ‘took stock of the implementation efforts on both sides’.
The discussion focussed primarily on the preparation of the first body of work to be undertaken by the Joint Committee, a group of EU and UK representatives that are responsible for the implementation and application of the Withdrawal Agreement, as established under article 164 of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Established under article 165, this Specialised Committee, formally known as ‘the Committee on issues related to the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland’, is one of six that will assist the Joint Committee in the performance of its tasks.
On the political sidelines, conversations between the EU and UK are moving away from the ‘constructive atmosphere’ as they disagree over the establishment of an EU office in Belfast. The Withdrawal Agreement does not specify that the EU has the right to establish an office in Northern Ireland; however, Article 12 of the Irish Protocol allows EU customs officials to oversee checks and controls moving across the British and Northern Irish border, which the European External Action Services argues constitutes the need for an office. The request to establish such an office has now been strongly rejected twice by the UK’s Paymaster General, as it would be ‘divisive in political and community terms’.
This rejection of an office comes as a surprise to the EU, as Sir Simon McDonald confirmed in February 2019 that the UK supported a continued presence in Belfast, as well as in Edinburgh and Cardiff (offices which have already shut down). The UK says this has been misunderstood and argues the meaning of ‘presence’.
It is understood that the issue of this office would have been raised during the first meeting of the Specialised Committee. Ultimately, political rowing over Northern Ireland does not come to the benefit of any party, most especially the Northern Irish themselves.
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