Friday

17th Sep 2021

UK presses EU to rewrite Northern Ireland customs rules

  • Northern Ireland: EU staff at some ports told to stay home after paramilitary threats (Photo: William Murphy)

Britain has demanded the EU relaxed customs rules on Northern Ireland, amid threats to suspend part of the Brexit deal.

The UK's demands came in a letter from British minister Michael Gove to European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič on Wednesday (3 February).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The EU should extend a grace period on new checks for a list of food and other products from a few months until 2023, Gove said.

It should also extend a deal on free movement of medical supplies until 2023, he said.

And it should scrap restrictions on pet travel and steel exports, amid other measures, he added.

Gove and Šefčovič also spoke by videoconference the same day.

They issued a joint statement saying they had had a "constructive discussion" and would "work intensively to find solutions", including through a Gove-Šefčovič meeting in London next week.

But their talks appeared less cordial than the statement suggested.

The British demands come in the context of a bitter dispute, which erupted last weekend, when Šefčovič's commission briefly tried to stop exports of coronavirus vaccines from Ireland to Northern Ireland.

It did so by threatening to impose physical checks on Irish borders, hitting raw nerves on the Good Friday agreement - a 1998 peace deal which ended decades of sectarian violence by guaranteeing free movement.

Gove's letter, which was leaked to media, accused the EU of causing "shock and anger" and said its actions had "changed the realities" of post-Brexit politics.

But Šefčovič told Irish broadcaster RTE after their videoconference that it was up to the UK to use "flexibilities" in the existing Brexit deal instead of inventing new ones.

"I really think that if all the flexibilities we put on the table and into the [Northern Ireland] protocol would be used to the maximum, that all of the issues which we are discussing today would be really resolved," Šefčovič said.

The EU "expects rigorous implementation of the protocol," Šefčovič told Gove, according to Northern Ireland deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill, who had joined the videoconference and who also spoke to RTE afterwards.

The vaccine-border dispute had prompted threats to EU officials working at Northern Irish ports by local paramilitary groups.

And Gove and Šefčovič's statement "condemned unreservedly any threats or intimidation" to civil servants.

Johnson adds heat

But some Northern Irish nationalists, such as Ian Paisley, an MP from the Democratic Unionist Party, have continued to use heated rhetoric.

Paisley, speaking in the British parliament to UK prime minister Boris Johnson earlier on Wednesday, had urged him to "be the unionist we need you to be".

"The [Northern Ireland] protocol has betrayed us and has made us feel like foreigners in our country," Paisley said.

The Northern Ireland customs 'protocol' was among the toughest problems when the EU and UK negotiated the Brexit agreement.

And for his part, Johnson also goaded the EU over last weekend's vaccine-border fiasco, instead of trying to bury the hatchet.

He threatened to suspend part of the Brexit treaty if the EU refused the British demands to rewrite the Northern Ireland rules.

"We will do everything we need to do, whether legislatively or indeed by triggering Article 16 [on suspension] of the protocol, to ensure that there is no barrier down the Irish Sea," Johnson told MPs.

And he claimed the moral high ground by saying Europe had endangered peace, echoing Gove.

"It was most regrettable that the EU should seem to cast doubt on the Good Friday agreement, the principles of the peace process, by seeming to call for a border across the island of Ireland," Johnson said.

EU to control vaccine exports in row over delays

The European Commission wants to control exports of coronavirus vaccines to outside the bloc, after pharmaceutical firms said EU countries will receive fewer jabs than they ordered due to alleged production problems.

EU admits redaction error in AstraZeneca contract

The European Commission published a redacted version of the AstraZeneca contract - only for large parts to be uncovered by using the bookmark tool in Adobe Acrobat's Reader. "It was certainly not our intention for this to happen," it said.

EU-AstraZeneca row flares up after vaccines shortfall

"The view that the company is not obliged to deliver because we signed a 'best effort agreement' is neither correct nor acceptable," said EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides, after the company's CEO tried to justified delayed deliveries to the EU.

EU starts legal action against UK over Northern Ireland

The EU-UK deal was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland by applying checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, creating checks on the Irish Sea. London is reluctant to put that into place.

Post-Brexit talks in last push until Sunday

The probability of no deal has increased as a last-ditch effort by British prime minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen did not bridge gaps.

Opinion

What a No Deal Brexit is going to look like

Research by the London School of Economics forecasts that a no-deal Brexit could be three times as bad as the pandemic for the UK economy, writes mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the president of the Committee of the Regions.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. MEPs suspect Gazprom manipulating gas price
  2. Fast fashion vs. climate - how 'repair & resell' is the new model
  3. Right of reply: Erik Bergkvist, S&D MEP and shadow rapporteur
  4. EU Commission blocks anti-fraud funds without explanation
  5. Centre-right MEPs abstain on gender-violence vote
  6. World off track to meet climate targets, despite Covid-19
  7. EU to call out Russian aggression at Kyiv summit
  8. EU urges member states to better protect journalists

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us