The United Kingdom’s key Brexit negotiator David Frost said that London needs more time to respond to the European Union’s legal action against the UK, after the bloc accused the British government of "breaching” the Northern Ireland Protocol, RTÉ News reports.
Frost has apparently stipulated the extension request in two letters, saying that the decision was “in line with precedent that typically allows two months to respond to proceedings of this kind.”
2/ “We’ve been clear that the measures we have taken are lawful and part of a progressive and good faith implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.”— Tony Connelly (@tconnellyRTE) April 14, 2021
The UK government believes that it acted lawfully after unilaterally extending the grace period on 3 March, effectively delaying the Northern Ireland protocol’s full implementation in relation to EU food safety requirements. The checks on certain products coming to the island from Great Britain were due to come into effect on 1 April, but the UK said back then it had extended the grace period until October.
London explained that the move was necessary to avoid food shortages resulting from the full implementation of checks. Many feared that when the grace period ended there would be disruptions in food supplies similar to those Northern Ireland witnessed in January, shortly after the UK transition period ended.
But the European Commission was outraged, with its Vice President Maros Sefcovic slamming the UK’s decision as “a violation” of the Northern Ireland protocol.
In a double legal action, the commission sent a “letter of formal notice” to the UK government on 15 March, saying that the country has breached the protocol and “good faith obligation” stipulated in the Brexit agreement. This move could potentially lead to a litigation process in the European Court of Justice.
Sefcovic also sent a second letter to Frost directly, urging London "to rectify and refrain from putting into practice" the extension of the grace period.
The UK had one month to respond to these letters but Frost has now asked to prolong its response until mid-May.
It's believed that the official is concerned with the complexity of the challenges stirred up by the EU’s legal action and doesn't want to rush London's response.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland has been rocked by fiery protests over the last days with unionists decrying what they see as an emerging border in the Irish Sea following the Brexit agreement. Belfast and some loyalist strongholds have witnessed violent clashes between loyalists, nationalist, and police.