Why the Irish border is back on the agenda
EU threatens legal action over UK plan to unilaterally delay parts of Brexit deal
Just two months after the signing of a Brexit trade deal, the issue of the Irish border has re-emerged as a serious sticking point between the UK and EU.
Brussels has warned that it will launch legal action “very soon” after the UK government on Wednesday announced that it would delay the implementation of parts of the Brexit deal to allow businesses in Northern Ireland time to adapt.
Cabinet Office minister David Frost said that the UK would extend “grace periods” to ease trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. However, the plan provoked a “furious response” in Brussels, The Guardian reports.
EU officials accused the UK of “going back on its treaty obligations in the Brexit withdrawal agreement”, specifically the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is designed to “ensure there is no return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic”, the paper adds.
Maros Sefcovic, vice-president of the European Commission, said in a statement that the plan to exempt goods coming from Great Britain from checks on the border was a “violation” of the agreement, adding that “this is the second time that the UK government is set to breach international law”.
The NI Protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU customs area and parts of the single market, meaning goods arriving in the country from the rest of the UK need to be checked to ensure they meets the bloc’s regulatory standards.
But “Northern Irish importers say the system has created more paperwork, delays and costs when goods are brought into the region”, Bloomberg says, prompting the government’s plan to delay its full implementation.
Tension over the protocol has already been heightened once since the Brexit deal was agreed, when the EU threatened to implement Article 16 of the agreement in January to avoid Covid vaccines entering the UK by using Northern Ireland as a back door.
Sefcovic, who oversees the implementation of the Brexit deal in Brussels, told the Financial Times that the European Commission is working on “infringement proceedings” against the UK.
Members of the European Parliament have also moved to “delay formal ratification of the wider trade and cooperation agreement” between the UK and the EU following the government’s announcement on Wednesday, The Guardian adds.