Brexit: EU is playing ‘hardball’ with Northern Ireland says Hoey
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Michael Gove believes EU chiefs have failed to realise the “shock and anger” they have caused by threatening peace process. The Cabinet Office minister is set for showdown talks with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic over the border tensions. Last night the top eurocrat warned the bloc is unwilling to ease checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea and rejected a wholesale renegotiation of the divorce deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol to prevent a hard border.
To keep the Irish border open, the region effectively remains part of the EU’s single market and some checks are now made on products arriving from the rest of the UK.
A Government spokesman said: “It is disappointing that the Commission has failed to acknowledge the shock and anger felt right across the community in Northern Ireland from its decision to trigger Article 16, and the need to take urgent steps to restore confidence as a result.
“The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will underline the need for such action and political leadership in this regard when meeting with Vice-President Sefcovic in London tomorrow evening.”
Since the arrangement entered into force on January 1, supermarkets have reported empty shelves and questions have been raised about Northern Ireland’s place within the UK.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last month threatened to suspend the Brexit deal’s border plan and reimpose a hard border to prevent coronavirus vaccines from entering Britain through the backdoor via Ireland.
Mr Gove has called for Brussels red tape to be eased after a worrying rise in tensions over a disruption in trade.
He has criticised the overzealous measures, which include an export ban on plants if they have any soil on them.
The UK and EU agreed a series of grace periods to protect the flows of supermarket goods, chilled meats, parcels, medicines and pets between the British mainland and Northern Ireland.
These are due to expire on April 1, prompting fears of massive trade disruption between our two territories.
The Government has called for the grace periods to be extended for two years, until April 2023.
Ahead of their meeting in London, Mr Sefcovic warned the EU would not agree to make major changes to the arrangements.
The eurocrat rejected “blanket derogations” from EU rules, but hinted he would be willing to find a “pragmatic” solution to ease border tensions.
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EU insiders say discussions over extending the current grace periods will be the “starting point” of the crisis talks later today.
In a letter to Mr Gove, Mr Sefcovic wrote: “As regards additional flexibilities concerning the application of Union law applicable in Northern Ireland with regard to meat products, export health certificates and parcel and express services, I would like to recall that blanket derogations from provisions of Union law made applicable in respect of Northern Ireland cannot be agreed beyond what the Protocol foresees already.
“Regarding the issue of certificates and meat products in particular, I would recall that the commitment by United Kingdom authorities and operators to a path towards full compliance with Union law, including as regards the necessary adjustments of supply chains, is clearly set out in the declarations of December 17, 2020.
“It is with this in mind that we should work together to find pragmatic solutions.”
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Brussels also accused Britain of failing to properly implement the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Sefcovic said the Government had not put in place the necessary border checks.
And added the EU had not been given access to certain IT databases and systems to help with the running of the border plan.
He wrote: “The Border Control Posts or Entry Posts are not yet fully operational.
“Official controls at the BCPs are currently not performed in compliance with the Withdrawal Agreement Protocol and European Union rules: very few identity checks; a very limited number of physical checks other than on live animals, live fish and plants; all non compliant consignments are accepted, even if destined for Ireland.”
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