EU 'unlikely to agree' to lengthy NI grace-period extension

2021-02-10 18:51:13Xinhua Editor : Cheng Zizhuo ECNS App Download

The European Union is likely to turn down a request from the United Kingdom for a two-year extension to a three-month "grace period" introduced to smooth post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland, according to The Telegraph newspaper.

Quoting unnamed sources in London and Brussels, the paper said the European Commission will instead agree to a delay of between three months and six months on fully implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol, which only came into force on Jan 1 and which has proven notoriously unwieldy.

The protocol aims to ensure Northern Ireland, which is in both the UK's internal market and the EU's single market, can avoid a hard border with its neighbor, the Republic of Ireland, which is an EU member.

It calls for some checks to be carried out in ports on products crossing into Northern Ireland from the UK mainland; delays and extra costs associated with those checks have already led to shortages of some products in Northern Ireland, prompting the three-month grace period.

The EU now reportedly fears the UK would use any significantly extended grace period to try to force a renegotiation of the Northern Ireland Protocol itself.

The Telegraph said on Tuesday that the issue will be discussed at a meeting in London on Thursday between Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and his EU counterpart, Maros Sefcovic.

One source in London told the paper: "(The EU is) amenable to a three-month extension ... whether we can do more we will probably have to wait for this week's discussions."

The BBC said officials from the Republic of Ireland also want to speak to representatives from European Commission, following the EU's recent decision to try to stop EU-made novel coronavirus vaccines being shipped to Northern Ireland via the republic.

Brussels feared the jabs would subsequently be imported into the UK mainland and blocked the shipment by controversially invoking a clause in the Northern Ireland Protocol before reversing the decision following criticism from Republic of Ireland Prime Minister Micheal Martin, the British government, and all five parties in Northern Ireland's devolved government.

Sky News reported Gove said post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland are not working, but can be made to work.

He told UK lawmakers Northern Ireland's businesses have faced "disruptions and difficulties" and that "we are very far away from resolving all those problems".

But he insisted the UK wants to find solutions to the problems within the existing Northern Ireland Protocol and not through renegotiating or overriding it.

Gove told a House of Commons committee on Monday a "Pandora's Box" opened when the EU attempted to block the vaccine's export.

"Who knows what Trojan horses will come out," he said. "If people put a particular type of integrationist theology ahead of the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, they are not serving the cause of peace and progress in Northern Ireland, and that is my principal and overriding concern."

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