Brussels warns against tightening relations with the United Kingdom over Northern Ireland

Britain’s relations with the EU risk growing growing fractures as frustrations grow over the UK’s refusal to fully implement itsBrexi obligations in Northern Ireland, a senior Brussels official has warned.

Maros Sefcovic, the EU’s key figure in relations with the United Kingdom, said he wanted the two sides to agree on a common “roadmap” in early June that would provide a clear timetable for resolving issues related to the development of new marketing agreements for the region.

While the EU shows “creativity and pragmatism” in discussions, the same cannot be said for the UK, the bloc’s Brexit commissioner told the Financial Times, revealing that it had warned its British counterpart David Frost of growing impatience on the part of EU member states.

“To be fairly honest all of these solutions come from our side,” Sefcovic said. “It’s pretty clear that if we don’t see positive developments, that atmosphere would be more acidic, [making it] more difficult to seek political compromises. The political environment would be much more challenging. ”

Crunch match

Sefcovic outlined a proposal for a meeting of the EU-UK community committee on Brexit in the week of June 7 as the time to agree on a “common approach” to resolving differences over the operation. of the commercial frontier of Northern Ireland. Work on such a plan by EU-UK officials has been ongoing since April.

Both parties are concerned about an escalation of tensions in Northern Ireland before the so-called marching season, when the region’s Orange Protestant Order holds traditional parades. The Northern Ireland protocol in Britain’s 2019 EU withdrawal treaty created a UK-administered trade and veterinary border in the Irish Sea to avoid the need for northern checks. south on the island of Ireland. But this has been highly controversial in the region’s unionist community, contributing to a wave of revolt in April.

Sefcovic said the EU was working hard to resolve the issues related to the protocol that has emerged since the new EU-UK trade agreement entered into force on 1 January – ranging from barriers to the movement of guide dogs between Northern Ireland and Britain on questions surrounding tariffs on steel, VAT on second-hand cars, and a more widespread issue regarding food safety controls.

Yet “on the UK side we don’t always have the basic answers,” Sefcovic said, pointing to the European Union’s demands for real-time access to IT systems to monitor trade, as well as the need of clear UK plans for the development and staffing of border control points for goods.

‘Increased impatience’ with the UK

He warned Frost in a call last week that there has been “increased impatience in the EU [to see] the solutions that the UK will now bring to the table ”to meet its obligations under the protocol.

In contrast, the UK thinks the EU is inflexible by the need for controls on products traveling from Britain to Northern Ireland.

“The EU continues to treat the regulatory border in the Irish Sea as if it were any other EU external border, even though there is a very limited risk to the single market. “, said a spokesman for the British government.

“This has resulted in reduced availability and selectivity on supermarket shelves, canceled deliveries, retailers pulling products, and interference with pet and parcel movements. Such sustained disruption undermines the protocol as a whole,” he added. spokesman.

Sefcovic said the EU needed to ensure the “integrity” of its single market by ensuring that products passed a proper scrutiny, but rejected an offer for the UK to have a In Swiss style veterinary agreement that would eliminate the need for food safety controls – a step that Britain refuses because it would imply continued alignment with EU rules. Adding that Brussels was working hard to find practical solutions to irritating traders, he said: “Honestly, I don’t know what we can do more about.”

Next month’s crucial meeting of the joint committee is likely to take place again with another EU-UK meeting focused on trade and shortly before Joe Biden is due to play in the UK for a G7 summit. There has been speculation in EU capitals that the US president’s visit to Europe will give him the opportunity to push forward progress on Northern Ireland’s trade agreements.

Legal threat

Sefcovic said Britain needed to realize that Brussels was also a “political space”, and that it could not be left in a position to tell EU governments “look, here are the 10 things I solved for the United Kingdom, ”only to answer“ zero, nothing, ”when the capitals asked him what he had in return.

Brussels is also on the move legal action against the United Kingdom after unilaterally extending certain grace periods from normal requirements for companies moving goods between Britain and Northern Ireland. Sefcovic said Britain’s written response to Brussels’ complaints had been “disappointing” and that the EU could be left with no choice but to escalate the dispute if “we did not feel anything more constructive at the EU meeting”. joint committee ”June.

That would mean going to the last procedural step before dragging Britain before the European Court of Justice.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has chosen Sefcovic, who has been Slovakia’s EU commissioner since 2009, to lead Brussels ’work to implement the agreements with the United Kingdom after the departure this year of the chief negotiator of Brexit. Michel barnier.

It’s hard work, as EU capital is growing more and more furiously as part of the new relationship doesn’t stretch. This includes not only Northern Ireland, but also fishing rights and work permits for Central and Eastern Europe.

Sefcovic said there was anger in the EU after it emerged that some EU citizens were being held in immigration detention centers after arriving in the UK without a visa. “You can imagine how my phone sounds, how many letters I have,” he said, adding that there had been a fruitful contact with the UK International Office.

Sefcovic said he was looking forward to working with London on a positive agenda to ensure Northern Ireland exploits its unique status of being both in the EU single market for goods and in the UK market.

The protocol “should be transformed into a great opportunity for Northern Ireland,” he said.

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