Ireland’s foreign minister has said that the EU is “negotiating with a partner it simply can’t trust” in post-Brexit talks between the two parties
On Wednesday, the UK has said that it would be unilaterally extending the grace periods for Irish Sea border checks, a move that the EU said would be breaching international law.
Simon Coveney has said that he preferred “engagement”, but the UK’s government was forcing the EU towards taking legal action.
The grace periods mean that procedures and checks are not yet fully in place. Northern Ireland has remained part of the European Union’s single market for goods so that products arriving from Great Britain undergo the EU import procedures.
The first of these periods will be expiring at the end of March, but the UK has said that it will be extended until October.
Mr Coveney has said that the progress was being made on the Northern Ireland Protocol and that the timing of the UK’s move could not be worse.
“That is why the EU is now looking at legal options and legal action which means a much more formalised and rigid negotiation process as opposed to a process of partnership where you try to solve the problems together,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme.
This comes after British fishing businesses could go bust or end up moving to Europe due to post-Brexit trading disruption, industry figures have now warned. MPs have been told that paperwork, due to new border controls, had proved to be a “massive problem” for fishing businesses and should be moved to an online format.
Conservative MP Simon Hoare, the chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, said the UK needed to be alert to Mr Coveney’s comments as it was important to maintain trust.
“If we go into these joint committees with an atmosphere of mistrust, my fear is… they won’t be as fruitful as they could be and certainly the mood music is going to be in a minor key rather than in a major key,” he told BBC Radio Foyle.
“You don’t want to be moving house and then find in the first week that you move in that you’re having a boundaries dispute with your neighbour.”
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said the UK was “taking several temporary operational steps to avoid disruptive cliff edges”, and was continuing engagement with the EU through the Joint Committee, the body which facilitates ongoing negotiations between the EU and the UK.
“These recognise that appropriate time must be provided for businesses to implement new requirements, and support the effective flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” he said.
This comes after border officials have confiscated sandwiches and other foodstuffs from drivers arriving in the Netherlands from the UK after Brexit. A Dutch TV clip showed a driver had his ham sandwiches confiscated by border officials as he arrived – with one border guard joking: “Welcome to the Brexit, sir.”
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson a DUP MP has said that the EU’s recent move to trigger Article 16 showed “very clearly that it remains within their remit to take unilateral action to protect the EU’s single market”.
“Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, the UK Government has the same power – to act unilaterally to protect the integrity of the UK internal market and trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain,” he told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.
The EU has reversed its Article 16 move within hours of taking the action, following condemnation from Belfast, London and Dublin.
Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission Vice President, went on to describe the move as a mistake which was made in the “intensity of the moment” of trying to secure coronavirus vaccines.