Brussels has been told to stop European courts overseeing the Northern Ireland Protocol and to renegotiate customs checks rules in a major intervention by the UK Government.
Government ministers on Wednesday published their proposals to change the Protocol, which governs how to keep trade flowing on the island of Ireland after Brexit.
Lord Frost, the minister overseeing Brexit-linked talks with the EU, and Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, made joint statements in Parliament on Wednesday.
A command paper outlining proposals from the UK Government about how the Protocol should be changed was also published.
It amounted to a major challenge to the EU, calling for the Protocol to be renegotiated – something the European Commission has declined flat-out to do in recent months.
But it fell short of calls to rip up the Protocol or to trigger Article 16, a process which would see the UK unilaterally ignoring promises made in the agreement.
What changes does the UK want?
The UK Government is now proposing a number of major changes in the Protocol, which was agreed before the UK left the EU.
At its heart, the Protocol mandates customs checks on goods flowing from Great Britain into Northern Ireland in order to keep the Ireland-Northern Ireland land border open given Brexit.
One change ministers are demanding is that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) no longer acts as the ultimate arbiter on any disputes about the Protocol.
Instead Boris Johnson’s Government wants a more independent arbitration panel, fearing that the ECJ will make rulings which favour Brussels rather than London.
Another change is about customs checks. In essence, the UK wants British goods which will only be sold in Northern Ireland – not then being moved into the EU single market – to be spared customs checks.
A third is that goods, such as medicines, which are approved for sale in the UK but not in the EU are still allowed to be sold in Northern Ireland.
Currently there are shortages of medicines on the shelves in Northern Ireland because certain drugs are approved for sale in the UK but not in the EU.
The changes are driven by frustration in the Johnson Government that Northern Ireland is not being treated as part of the UK, facing different rules as the mainland UK.
Critics counter that it was Mr Johnson himself who signed up to the Northern Ireland Protocol, which effectively created a customs border down the Irish Sea, to deliver Brexit.
The European Commission and EU leaders for months have publicly refused to renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol, instead calling on Mr Johnson to stick to his commitments.
Joe Biden’s administration in Washington is also watching closely. It has previously called on the UK not to unilaterally rip up the agreements it has made on Northern Ireland.
UK government ministers are also lobbying for Brussels to indefinitely delay customs checks which are due to come into effect in Northern Ireland at various different dates in the autumn and winter.
Government sources are arguing that it would be best to avoid cliff-edges, such as happened at the end of June when customs checks on sausages and other chilled meats moving from Britain to Northern Ireland were due to come into effect.
The stand-off, first reported by The Telegraph, was dubbed the ‘sausage wars’. The checks were ultimately delayed until the start of October.