12:19 GMT12 May 2021
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    Northern Ireland has been hit by social unrest of late, with loyalists showing their anger over the outcome of the Brexit agreement that introduced checks on goods arriving on the island from Great Britain. At the start of March, the UK government moved to unilaterally extend the grace period for certain requirements, but the EU isn't happy.

    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.”

    ​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.

    European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, speaks with the British Prime Minister's Europe adviser David Frost during the start of the first round of post -Brexit trade talks between the EU and the UK, at EU headquarters in Brussels, Monday, March 2, 2020. Long-awaited trade talks between the EU and Britain kick off Monday amid deep tensions over Prime Minister Boris Johnson's threat to walk away from the talks if not enough progress is made within four months.
    © AP Photo / Olivier Hoslet
    European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, speaks with the British Prime Minister's Europe adviser David Frost during the start of the first round of post -Brexit trade talks between the EU and the UK, at EU headquarters in Brussels, Monday, March 2, 2020. Long-awaited trade talks between the EU and Britain kick off Monday amid deep tensions over Prime Minister Boris Johnson's threat to walk away from the talks if not enough progress is made within four months.

    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.

    Tags:
    European Commission, European Union, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
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