British ministers under fire for breaching global law, European Union says

Andrew Cummings
March 4, 2021

THE UK GOVERNMENT has announced that it is to unilaterally extend a grace period that was given to supermarkets in Great Britain exporting agri-foods to Northern Ireland.

1 July: End of a six-month grace period for Great Britain-Northern Ireland trade on chilled meat products, which aren't permitted to be imported to the European Union at all.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic slammed the move as he threatened legal action, while France branded the decision "unacceptable".

Mr Coveney said he had had a "blunt" conversation with Lord Frost and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis on Wednesday after learning of the UK Government's actions and "strongly advised them not to do it".

'This is the second time that the UK Government is set to breach worldwide law.

"This also constitutes a clear departure from the constructive approach that has prevailed up until now, thereby undermining both the work of the Joint Committee [UK-EU committee tasked with implementing the Brexit deal] and the mutual trust necessary for solution-oriented co-operation".

Ireland's foreign affairs minister has said the European Union is negotiating with a partner it "simply can not trust" after the UK's latest Brexit move.

The paramilitaries including the Ulster Volunteer Force, Ulster Defence Association and Red Hand Commando said they were concerned about the disruption to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland due to the Brexit deal.

However, British ministers have said they will extend this until October.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1 this week, Minister Coveney accused the British government of breaking the Northern Ireland Protocol, as well as its own promises.

Yesterday he said the United Kingdom would unilaterally extend the three month grace period which exempts British suppliers from providing certain paperwork when shipping food to Northern Ireland supermarkets.

The council emphasised that unionist opposition to the Brexit deal's Northern Ireland Protocol should remain "peaceful and democratic".

"Certification requirements will then be introduced in phases alongside the roll out of the Digital Assistance Scheme", it added.

Goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Great Britain have been subjected to added processes and checks since the Brexit transition period ended on December 31. "Guidance will also be set out to help address practical problems on soil attached to the movement of plants, seeds, bulbs, vegetables and agricultural machinery".

It comes after the United Kingdom took unilateral action to extend grace periods for businesses such as supermarkets and parcel operators, before they have to comply with new post-Brexit rules.

He said: 'A unilateral announcement is deeply unhelpful to building the relationship of trust and partnership that is central to the implementation of the protocol'.

Lord Frost, who is the Cabinet Office minister responsible for EU-UK relations, spoke to Mr Sefcovic on Wednesday evening amid the tensions.

The British decision to act unilaterally was "clearly in breach of the protocol" and the commitments that were made a few weeks ago.

The DUP is aiming to undermine the protocol.

"This is not where we want to be but it is where the British Government is driving us towards".

Businesses in Northern Ireland have been calling for an extension to the grace periods to avoid having to contend with extra bureaucracy.

But this means there has to be customs declarations on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, including checks on some products.

Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald said: 'At last week's meeting of the Joint Committee, Michael Gove and Maros Sefcovic reaffirmed support for the Irish Protocol and the need to work together to deal with issues that have arisen.

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