EU laws in Northern Ireland ‘can be ditched in favour of international rules'

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Lord Frost – Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

European laws in Northern Ireland could be slashed and replaced with international rules in a new-look Brexit agreement for the province, Lord Frost has told peers.

The Brexit minister is seeking to limit the role of the European Court of Justice in policing some 300 EU rules that are enforced in the province to prevent a hard border with the Republic.

He believes the court’s Luxembourg-based judges have too much power as the sole arbiter of the Northern Ireland Protocol and that stripping a number of EU rules from the treaty could help reset the power balance.

Asked by Lords on the European Affairs Committee about a potential “Swiss-style” compromise, Lord Frost said: “The problem is far too much EU law applies in Northern Ireland, that is the core of the problem. We don’t see that so much should apply and therefore the interpretive role of the CJEU (ECJ) is also limited in that aspect.”

He suggested the process of “replication” – exchanging EU law in the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has created a trade border in the Irish Sea, for international alternatives where possible – could be “one way of dealing” with the ECJ’s overreach in the province.

Under the current arrangements, hundreds of EU regulations and directives are listed, leaving the European Commission and ECJ as the sole arbiters for enforcement of the rules.

British officials have been sifting through annexes two to five of the protocol to establish whether the regulations are only matters of EU law or if they were transposed from other international treaties, such as the World Trade Organisation.

The Government will use its talks with the EU, which continue in London on Wednesday, to insist that a number of these regulations could be swapped out for international law, enabling an independent arbitration panel, excluding the ECJ, to rule on future disputes.

This would leave the EU’s Luxembourg-based court with a limited role in interpreting narrow matters of European law and the enforcement of those rules in Northern Ireland, opening the door to a potential compromise.

Lord Frost will host his European Counterpart Maros Sefcovic, a Commission vice-president, in London on Friday to decide whether to hold another round of technical talks over the protocol.

The Brexit minister blamed the long-running dispute over Brexit rules in Northern Ireland for “generating mistrust” between the UK and EU.

He told his fellow peers that he hoped diplomatic relations would be normalised once negotiations over the province are concluded.

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