Chief Brexit negotiator for the European Union, Maroš Šefčovič, has announced his aim to reduce customs checks for goods crossing the Irish sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Following discussions between Liz Truss and the Irish prime minister, the EU has formed a proposal stating that checks will consist of “a couple lorries”, making the process almost “invisible”.

Whilst this isn’t quite meeting the UK’s demand for no checks, Šefčovič states that this proposal of minimal checks won’t be too dissimilar.

Negotiated during Brexit, Northern Ireland remains part of the UK customs territory but enforces the EU Customs Code. Therefore, it remains in the single market of the EU under the Northern Ireland Protocol which is now part of international law.

Under this protocol, goods are only checked between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and not at the Irish border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

What is the dispute?

Earlier this year on 15th June legal action was taken by the European commission against the UK. This was for the UK allegedly not sticking to the agreed protocol. Whilst the commission has announced that it will not renegotiate, it has stated that it will make an effort to improve the protocol.

This latest announcement by Šefčovič is the start of these efforts.

Current arrangement under the protocol

Goods are checked at ports in Northern Ireland upon arrival from Great Britain and following this they can then move into the Republic of Ireland.

How the UK would like the deal to change

The UK now want goods to be split into 2 lanes, a green lane and a red lane.

The green lane will be for goods destined for Northern Ireland only and won’t be checked.

The red lane will be for goods destined for the Republic of Ireland and the EU with checks carried out on them.

What the European commission has suggested

To meet the UK halfway, the EU has suggested a reduction in checks on goods and paperwork, thus speeding up the process of goods entering Northern Ireland and the EU.

In addition, the EU has proposed a slight relaxation on the rules regarding chilled meats.

What now?

Despite a period of national mourning, the government has responded to the European Commissions legal action before the deadline of Thursday 15th September. However, it is currently unknown what this response was. The Commission is now in the process on analysing the response before deciding what to do next.