The Daily Telegraph
New clash with EU over N Ireland
Johnson angers Brussels by announcing unilateral extension of grace period to aid Irish supermarkets
BORIS JOHNSON has plunged deeper into a row with the EU by announcing fresh Northern Irish border measures as the bloc threatened trade tariffs if Britain failed to back down.
The Government last night said it would seek to ease trade barriers on parcels after it extended by six months grace periods on custom checks unilaterally for Northern Irish supermarkets.
Lord Frost, the minister in charge of EU relations, issued an indefinite relaxation of customs requirements on parcels from British firms for consumers in the province. The move would prevent additional red tape burdening companies such as John Lewis and Amazon when they dispatched deliveries to Northern Ireland, with a six-month extension for business-to-business parcels also implemented until October.
Brussels reacted angrily to the UK decision and threatened to suspend parts of the Brexit trade deal.
Yesterday Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, said the EU would have no option but to resort to legal action as it was negotiating with a “frustrating” partner “it simply couldn’t trust”. Maros Sefcovic, the EU commissioner overseeing the Brexit trade deal, said the EU was already preparing to go to the European Court of Justice.
Despite the threat, requirements around imports of vegetables, plants and agricultural machinery that contain traces of British soil will also be eased unilaterally by the UK, following claims imports were being blocked at ports due to overzealous application of the rules.
While the EU claimed the move breached the protocol overseen by a joint UK-EU joint committee, senior Government sources argued they were acting to protect Northern Irish businesses and consumers from avoidable trade disruption.
Writing for telegraph.co.uk, Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, insisted the measures were “lawful and consistent with a progressive and good faith implementation of the protocol.” He cited the “serious, ongoing consequences” of the EU’S aborted attempt in January to erect a hard vaccines border on the island of Ireland.
“In my discussions with Northern Ireland businesses and civic society, it was increasingly clear that decisions needed to be taken now to avoid significant immediate-term disruption to everyday life in Northern Ireland,” he said.
Mr Johnson insisted that the UK was merely taking “temporary and technical measures to ensure there are no barriers in the Irish Sea, to make sure things flow freely,” and would continue to work with the EU to find solutions.
However, Brussels was considering enforcement measures contained in the Withdrawal Agreement and UK-EU trade deal.
If Britain ignored any arbitration panel ruling against it, the EU could suspend parts of the newly minted trade agreement, exposing British exports to possible EU tariffs.
Separately, the European Parliament postponed a date for ratifying the trade deal, which must be done in order for it to come into full effect.