The European Union is ready to make concessions over the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol issue, but will warn Lord David Frost, the UK key negotiator with the bloc, that “patience is wearing thin” in Brussels over the Downing Street’s “confrontational” attitude, reported The Times.
Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice-president and EU’s lead negotiator, is set to meet with Frost in London for talks, tabling a spate of compromises that are ostensibly geared towards avoiding further tensions over the Northern Ireland post-Brexit deal.
Sefcovic will purportedly inform his UK counterpart at the negotiations that in return for the “significant” concessions, the British government is expected to implement the protocol “in good faith”.
“Unfortunately we cannot exclude that the UK will choose the more confrontational route,” an EU official was quoted by the outlet as saying, adding:
“The EU has been patient but the EU’s patience is wearing thin.”
EU Vows ‘Swift, Resolute’ Action
European Union officials were cited as deploring a spate of recent decisions by Downing Street that had eroded trust. Thus, construction on border control posts at ports in Northern Ireland had been halted in defiance of previous agreements, EU officials claimed on Monday. They added that tracing systems to ensure that UK-made goods do not enter the Republic of Ireland had similarly not been established.
Brexit commissioner Sefcovic warned the UK that while Brussels has shown a desire to be flexible, it will not hesitate to take action to ensure that there is no breach of international law.
“If the UK takes further unilateral action … the EU will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure that the UK abides by its international law obligations,” he wrote in The Telegraph ahead of his trip to London.
The EU official cautioned the UK against unilaterally extending the grace period in the Northern Ireland protocol beyond its expiration at the end of this month.
Earlier this year, Britain extended the grace periods on supermarket goods and parcels, prompting Brussels to launch legal action in March as it accused the UK of violating international law.
In what is seen as a conciliatory measure aimed at soothing frayed tempers, Brussels is expected to offer derogation from EU law in some issues to seek mutually acceptable solutions.
“We’re investing considerable energy to find solutions with the UK and we have done so for months. The EU has been patient. But the EU’s patience is wearing thin, and if this continues, we will have to consider all the tools and all the options that are available to us,” an EU official has been cited as saying.
Meanwhile, David Frost wrote over the weekend in the Financial Times that while fallout from the protocol on trade between Britain and Northern Ireland had been underestimated, some “common sense” was required from Brussels.
“The EU needs a new playbook for dealing with neighbours, one that involves pragmatic solutions between friends… Not the imposition of one side’s rules on the other and legal purism,” wrote Britain’s Brexit minister.
The UK Prime Minister will reportedly be urged not to renege on the Northern Ireland Brexit deal, The Times reported on Monday. Biden will also warn that the prospects of a US trade deal with the United Kingdom might be damaged if the situation remains unresolved, according to the outlet.
NI Protocol Fury
The post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol has been the greatest source of tensions since Britain signed the EU Withdrawal Agreement to exit the European bloc.
The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the Brexit Withdrawal agreement introduced checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea as a compromise measure to dodge a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
At the time, the negotiating sides had agreed that protecting the Northern Ireland peace deal (the Good Friday agreement) was a priority, keeping the land border between the Republic of Ireland (remaining in the EU) and Northern Ireland (in the UK) open to avoid new post-Brexit infrastructure-like border posts.
It was agreed that the checks would be phased in through the use of so-called "grace periods", with the UK earlier this year unilaterally extending and enhancing some of these grace periods, triggering ire from Brussels. The next phase of new controls, affecting chilled meat products like sausages and mince, are due to begin next month.
The new arrangements have angered Northern Ireland’s British unionists, triggering loyalist violence amid claims the checks amount to a border in the Irish Sea, weakening ties with the rest of the UK.