Brexit: 'Many to follow' UK with EU exit says June Mummery
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The UK this week decided to unilaterally extend grace periods in Northern Ireland in a move designed to ease trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This decision provoked fury in Brussels, prompting the bloc to threaten to take legal action against the UK. European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic labelled the move as a “very negative surprise” while the Northern Ireland secretary insists the actions are “lawful and consistent”.
The European Parliament has now declined to set a date to ratify the Brexit trade deal in the latest move amid the growing tensions between Britain and the EU.
The EU announced it is preparing to take “infringement proceedings” against the UK for its decision to unilaterally extend grace periods on post-Brexit customs checks in Northern Ireland.
The bloc’s chief negotiator Maroš Šefčovič told the FT the EU would take these steps “very soon”.
Mr Šefčovič said: “We are currently preparing it and it would be really something coming to our table very soon.”
The EU has signalled that it will seek to suspend parts of the Brexit trade deal in retaliation.
The move came after the UK took unilateral action to extend grace periods for businesses until October.
The UK this week extended this border grace period for parcels and for checks on agri-foods.
The grace periods mean procedures and checks on these goods are not fully applied.
The first of these grace periods was due to expire at the end of March, but this week the UK took the decision to unilaterally extend this period until October.
All parcels entering Northern Ireland would have been required to make customs declarations from April 1, but the logistics industry warned it was ill-prepared for this change.
In response to these concerns, the British Government extended the grace period, in a move the EU has claimed was illegal.
In protest, the European Parliament has now declined to set a date for its vote to ratify the EU-UK Brexit deal.
EU parliament group chiefs had been expected to set a date this month for its vote at a meeting on Thursday.
An approving vote by the European Parliament is required for the full ratification of the Brexit trade deal.
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, confirmed the measures were “lawful and consistent with a progressive and good-faith implementation of the Protocol”.
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Writing in the Telegraph, he said: “It is vital the EU also recognise the serious, ongoing consequences of their actions in January when they sought to improperly invoke Article 16 – the emergency safeguards clause in the Protocol – seeking to introduce controls on vaccines to Northern Ireland.
“Not only did this action go right to the heart of the sense of identity for Unionist communities, it was also completely contrary to the spirit of the Protocol, in breach of the balance provided by the Good Friday Agreement and continues to seriously undermine cross-community confidence in the Protocol’s operation.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson supported this stance but attempted to downplay the dispute on Thursday.
He said: “We’re taking some temporary and technical measures to ensure there are no barriers in the Irish Sea and to make sure things flow freely from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
“Obviously these are matters for continuing intensive discussions with our friends.
“I’m sure with a bit of goodwill and common sense that all these technical problems are eminently soluble.”
Arlene Foster today accused the EU of having a “very belligerent approach”.
She said “something had to give” but added she is “not entirely surprised” by the EU’s decision to take legal action.
Ms Foster told BBC’s Today programme: “It was quite clear to me that there wasn’t going to be a meeting of minds.
“So the UK Government was going to have to take action, given that the grace period for goods in terms of supermarkets ended at the end of this month.”
Her comments came hours after Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Question Time the EU had taken petulant action over the UK’s actions to distract from its vaccine woes.
A Government source told London Playbook: “This is completely incomparable to their behaviour at the end of January. It’s apples and oranges.”
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