Brussels has warned that EU-UK relations were “at a crossroads” following negotiations in London that failed to overcome differences rooted in Northern Ireland, as the bloc threatened Britain with trade sanctions. if he did not respect his legal obligations.
The two sides agreed to continue talks after London meetings on Wednesday between British Brexit Minister David Frost and EU Commissioner Maros Sefcovic. They confirmed, however, that divisions persist over how to deal with numerous irritants with trade arrangements for Northern Ireland, ranging from veterinary checks to animal travel.
Speaking to reporters after the talks, Sefcovic said the EU’s patience was “very, very fine” with the UK over its perceived failure to implement the basic parts of the Ireland Protocol. North, which sets a regulatory and customs border between the region and Britain.
Brussels has already opened legal proceedings against Britain for the unilateral extension of certain grace periods in the protocol. Sefcovic discussed the possibility that the EU could take “cross-cutting measures” against Britain, such as the introduction of tariffs on certain goods, or the suspension of cooperation in certain sectors, if the United United has failed to meet its obligations.
“If the UK were to take more unilateral action in the coming weeks, the EU will not be shy to react quickly, firmly and decisively to ensure that the UK respects its obligations under international law,” Sefcovic said. that the EU wanted to find solutions with the UK. “Trust needs to be restored,” he added.
Frost told reporters after the meeting, “There has been no progress, there has not been a single blow,” adding that the sides “will continue to talk.”
Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are due to hold further discussions on the sidelines of this week’s G7 summit.
U.S. President Joe Biden will also raise the issue during his trip to Europe, which will include discussions with Johnson ahead of the summit. Sefcovic added that he had been approached for updates by “several” representatives of the United States Congress.
After the meeting, Frost reiterated the UK’s complaints that “the EU insists on operating the protocol in an extremely purist manner”.
“The reality is that it is a very well-balanced document. . . to deal with a very sensitive policy in Northern Ireland ”.
The lack of revolutions means pressure is expected to increase on both sides ahead of the imminent expiry, at the end of this month, of temporary exemptions that would allow British sausages and other chilled meats in Northern Ireland.
Sefcovic said it was difficult for the EU to commit at this stage to a further extension on refrigerated meats, since, for Brussels, Britain did not respect the conditions attached to previous grace periods, as well as the clear labeling of products.
Brussels insists it is working hard to identify creative solutions that the parties can agree to resolve with post-Brexit trade agreements.
Sefcovic emphasized the EU’s efforts to find solutions, including on removing administrative barriers to the sale of medicines manufactured in Britain in Northern Ireland, and facilitating travel with guide dogs. “But we cannot override the core of the protocol,” he said, noting that the EU needed to ensure that goods entering its market complied with blockchain rules.
Johnson on Wednesday defended the British approach to the NI protocol. “We prioritize the right of people in Northern Ireland to have free and uninterrupted access to goods and services from across the UK,” he said in response to questions from the Prime Minister.
“We are working to ensure the protection of the territorial and economic integrity of our country.”
Johnson threw his weight behind Frost in the House of Commons, reflecting a determination on Downing Street to show the prime minister he fully supports his abrasive Brexit minister.
“I think David Frost does an exceptional job,” he said. “It’s the biggest Frost since the Great Frost of 1709.” A British official said EU diplomats had made a mistake in reporting against the minister.
Following the meetings, which also addressed other bilateral issues such as fisheries and citizens ’rights, the UK published its own breakdown of the status of the discussions, saying there had been“ some progress towards solutions “in certain” limited sectors “, including the free movement of guide dogs and VAT adjustments for used cars