EU 'unwilling' to resolve Northern Ireland issue says MP
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Downing Street announced that it would ignore EU rules to ensure supermarket shelves in region are fully stocked at the end of the month. Under the plan, Britain will unilaterally ease red tape imposed by the bloc to prevent trade disruptions between Northern Ireland and the mainland. But the move sparked fury among Brussels insiders, who accused No10 of deliberately breaching international law.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson today announced that “temporary operational easings” would be used to protect the flow of food to Northern Irish supermarkets.
He vowed: “The position of Northern Ireland within the UK internal market is rock solid and guaranteed.
“We’re making sure we underscore that with some temporary operational easings in order to protect the market in some areas such as food supplies pending further discussions with the EU.
“We leave nothing off the table in order to ensure we get this right.”
A Government source said the move would give supermarkets in the region more time to prepare for life under the Brexit divorce deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol to avoid a hard border.
To keep the Irish border open, the area effectively remains part of the EU’s single market and some checks are now made on some products arriving from the rest of the UK.
Brexit minister Lord Frost and his EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic are set to discuss the row tonight.
Downing Street has called for an extension to the grace periods that are due to expire at the end of the month, but EU insiders fear an agreement will not ease the tensions.
An EU diplomat fumed: “Under the agreement, a grace period can only be agreed by both sides. If it’s not, it’s not a grace period but a violation of the treaty.
“The fact is that the UK is failing to live up to what it agreed. And that will not continue to be solved by perpetuating grace periods.”
Another Brussels source added: “British diplomacy is very predictable these days: chose confrontation. Because why on earth would you want to respect an agreement you negotiated yourself?
“And why on earth would you want to settle difficult issues in an amicable way if you can also take a confrontational approach?”
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Irish MP Neale Richmond said: “There will be very serious concerns about this, not with the ends but the means. Given the Brexit trade agreement still isn’t ratified, how will this build trust & allow for a positive reset of relations?”
But a No10 insider accused Brussels of overacting and ignoring the “real-life consequences” of their bureaucratic demands.
They added: “Temporarily delaying implementation is quite common and frankly this is the basic minimum we need to do to support businesses and communities in Northern Ireland.
“We face a cliff edge at the end of the month and supermarkets need to make decisions ahead of time.
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“We’ve made clear we want to extend to give businesses the benefit of a five-month period, it’s only an extension of what is already happening and this is what Northern Ireland business have said they need to function. There is no risk of leakage into the EU’s single market, we’re just making food is available.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “We are committed to meeting our Protocol obligations in a pragmatic and proportionate way, but there have been challenges that are having a direct, and often disproportionate, impact on lives and livelihoods, including an unacceptable disruption to the flow of critical goods.
“That is why, as part of our new operational plan for supermarkets and their suppliers, underpinned by the Digital Assistance Scheme to enable goods to be moved in accordance with the Protocol in the most streamlined way possible, we will extend the existing arrangements to October to reflect the reality that it takes time to adapt and implement new requirements.”
The move was also backed by Northern Irish business that are worried are being cutoff from mainland Britain.
Aodhán Connolly, Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said: “The retail industry welcomes the extension of the grace periods in both time and scope, even if it is unilaterally, to allow us to continue to give Northern Ireland households the choice and affordability they need. We now have short-term stability, one of our four key asks. But there is still much to be delivered.
“Retailers and consumers we still need the certainty of a long-term workable solution. We need simplicity using things like digitisation and an auditable and certified supply chain to deliver a trusted trader scheme, and a veterinary agreement to remove frictions. This needs to be proportionate to the low level of risk of UK retail goods coming into Northern Ireland going onto the single market.”
“And lastly, we need affordability. As both the EU and UK have said in recent weeks, this all must be done with the least disruption to communities in Northern Ireland. That means the costs of new processes must be kept to a minimum to allow us to keep costs down for Northern Ireland families. The business community has proven that it will use best endeavours to make things work. We now need the EU and the UK to show that they have the political will to live up to their side of the bargain by delivering a pragmatic, workable, risk-based solution.”
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