EU launches legal action over Northern Ireland protocol row

EU ramps up tensions on Northern Ireland as it formally launches legal action over UK’s decision to suspend parts of Brexit protocol

The EU ramped up the row over Northern Ireland today as it formally launched action over the UK’s decision to suspend parts of the Brexit protocol.

Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic accused Britain of violating international law and undermining trust by unilaterally extending grace periods on trade.

Concerns have been rising about sectarian tensions in the province with unionists furious at obstacles to trade with the UK mainland. 

The government has argued that its unilateral steps are needed to protect supermarket supplies and parcel deliveries. 

There are fears the dispute could end up in the European Court of Justice, while any attempt to impose huge penalties could throw relations into meltdown.  

In a statement, Mr Sefcovic said: ‘The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland is the only way to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement and to preserve peace and stability, while avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and maintaining the integrity of the EU single market.

‘The EU and the UK agreed the Protocol together. We are also bound to implement it together.

‘Unilateral decisions and international law violations by the UK defeat its very purpose and undermine trust between us. The UK must properly implement it if we are to achieve our objectives.’  

Concerns have been rising about sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland with unionists furious at obstacles to trade with the UK mainland


Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic (left) accused the UK of violating international law and undermining trust by unilaterally extending grace periods on trade. Lord Frost (right) is leading the talks for Britain

Mr Sefcovic said he hoped that the situation can be resolved with ‘collaborative, pragmatic and constructive’ talks. 

A letter sent by the EU calls on the Government to ‘rectify and refrain from putting into practice’ issues announced by the UK over the grace period on March 3 and calls for bilateral discussions in good faith to find a solution to begin by the end of the month.

A Brussels official said: ‘We think it is an enormous problem because there are real-life issues behind all of this and the stakeholders need stability and predictably.’

Boris Johnson has insisted the extensions are ‘very sensible’, with the Government denying there has been a breach of the protocol.

The Northern Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement was designed by the UK and EU to avoid a hardening of the border on the island of Ireland when the post-Brexit transition period ended on December 31.

Northern Ireland remained part of the EU’s single market for goods, meaning products arriving from Great Britain face EU import regulations.

The first of the grace periods had been due to expire at the end of March but the UK has pledged to extend them until October in a move widely welcomed by businesses in Belfast.

Boris Johnson (pictured on a visit to Coventry today) has insisted the extensions are ‘very sensible’, with the Government denying there has been a breach of the protocol

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