NEW: update on the earlier thread on @MarosSefcovic's comments on the NI Protocol...
2/ Following today's Specialised Committee mtg, which prepares the groundwork for tomorrow's more political Joint Committee (@michaelgove + Sefcovic), the message is that if the EU is to agree any extensions to grace periods they must be a bridge to a permanent settled state
3/ And any extensions will only be considered if the UK is showing it is implementing the Dec 17 Gove-Sefcovic deal on the Protocol (ie, granting access to databases etc)
4/ “The EU is linking any consideration of further grace periods to implementation by the UK of its commitments,” says one EU source, “and...that if there were to be a further extension of grace periods it would have to be a bridge to the permanent settled state.
5/ “We're not getting into a rolling period of extensions every six months or so.”
6/ It's understood that during the Specialised Committee meeting the EU side complained about the non-implementation of the Dec agreement, and that physical SPS checks were not being carried out. I'm told these complaints were robustly refutted by UK officials
7/ There appears to have been some confusion about whether both sides were referring to checks not being carried out because staff had been withdrawn due to alleged security threats, or that they weren't being done properly anyway
8/ It's understood both sides welcomed the outreach by @MarosSefcovic to NI businesses and civil society, and to the Brexit Stakeholders' Forum in Dublin
9/ It's understood the European Commission is exploring the potential idea of a bilateral EU UK veterinary agreement which officials, and NI businesses, say wd alleviate much of the GB-NI trade friction when it comes to food, plants, trees, seed potatoes etc
10/ There is talk of a Swiss style agreement, but caution advised: none of this has yet broken the surface, and EU officials say the UK rejected such an idea during the TCA negotiations.
11/ There are different models of veterinary agreements. The UK is likely to resist any which require regulatory alignment; the EU is unlikely to accept cherry-picked alignment for different products (excuse the pun)
12/ All told, it is clear there won't be any big breakthrough at tomorrow's Joint Committee, despite the heat around the joint unionist legal challenge to overturn the Protocol (the EU regards that as an internal UK matter). It will also be Michael Gove's last JC meeting
13/ "The best possible outcome will be the formalisation of the Joint Statement that came from the Gove-Sefcovic meeting in London [on Feb 10]," says a senior EU source. "That could be turned into: our experts will meet, we'll have some sort of process...
14/ "...we'll look at solutions collectively, pragmatically and see what we can do. Everybody recognises there are issues, we have to work together within the confines of the protocol, while respecting the integrity of the single market - all that kind of language.
15/ "and they will agree that all this work needs to be done urgently."

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More from @tconnellyRTE

25 Feb
Breaking: The EU would be prepared to look at a bilateral veterinary agreement with the UK as a way around many of the food safety and animal health trade barriers associated with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
2/ The suggestion was made by the European Commission vice president @MarosSefcovic in an interview with @rtenews.

“We would be ready to discuss [the issue] with our UK partners. What are their ideas and what can we do to find a solution?” he said.
3/ Mr Šefčovič said he raised the issue with his UK counterpart Michael Gove yesterday evening during a meeting of the EU UK Joint Committee, which is tasked with implementing the Protocol.
Read 14 tweets
24 Feb
Here's a more detailed breakdown on this evening's Joint Committee mtg between @michaelgove and @MarosSefcovic and their teams (@DUPleader and @moneillsf joined the meeting and made interventions)
2/ The meeting lasted around 90 minutes, and said to have been "heavy". Much of it appears to have focused on the European Commission's view that the UK is not implementing the flexilibities and obligations from last December's Gove-Sefcovic side agreement
3/ The UK is pressing for extensions to two grace periods from that Dec deal, one 3 month period (absolving GB-NI agrifood suppliers from expensive export health certificates) and one 6 month period, suspending the ban on sausages, non-frozen mince etc
Read 14 tweets
24 Feb
Joint statement by the co-chairs of the EU-UK Joint Committee

“The European Union and the United Kingdom today held the first meeting of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee following the end of the transition period.
2/ “The parties welcomed the progress made on citizens’ rights in recent weeks in implementing the rights of UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK under the Withdrawal Agreement, and reiterated the importance of communication and support to the most vulnerable.
3/ “Further to the meeting of the Joint Committee co-chairs on 11 February 2021, the EU and the UK also took stock of the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland and of work to find pragmatic solutions.
Read 8 tweets
23 Feb
.@MarosSefcovic [on the NI Protocol]: there are "consequences" of the UK leaving the EU and becoming a third country. This is very well reflected in the Protocol and in the TCA.
2/ "The EU will always remain constructive and solution driven, but I've also reminded my British partners that this must be a two way street. We've had a very intense session in Dec to make sure entry points [ie BCPs] would be up and ready by the middle of this year...
3/ "...that we would have real time access to the IT customs systems which would smooth further customs formalities, that we would more information on how the trusted trader scheme is working for GB distributors to make sure supermkts in NI are properly supplied."
Read 10 tweets
22 Feb
Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs @simoncoveney has said there could be freer flowing trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland under the Protocol if the UK agreed to align more closely to EU food safety and animal and plant health standards.
2/ A vetinary agreement between both sides, or some form of “equivalence” arrangement, could lower trade barriers in areas where the UK is demanding flexibility from the European Commission, such as seed potatoes, seeds, potted plants, and pets, he said.
3/ Speaking following a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers in Brussels, Mr Coveney said: “In some of those cases the UK government has the capacity to facilitate that change if they want to agree to a different approach when it comes to equivalence of standards, for example.
Read 11 tweets
22 Feb
The Chair of the European Parliament's UK Coordination Group @davidmcallister has said there will be no “thorough review” of the NI Protocol, nor any amendments to it.
2/ However, he said there should be "flexible" and "pragmatic" solutions found, so long as they were in line with the principles at the heart of the Protocol.
3/ These principles were “to avoid a hard border between the Republic and NI, to enable the true functioning of the all-island economy and safeguarding the GFAin all its dimensions, and to ensure the integrity of our single market for goods..."
Read 9 tweets

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