UK-EU standoff over Northern Ireland red tape

To avoid creating a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland remains within the EU’s single market — potentially separating the province from the rest of the UK’s internal market.

In the first weeks of 2021, there were significant shortages of fresh produce in supermarkets across Northern Ireland. British companies were unprepared for the new paperwork required to export to Northern Ireland under the Northern Ireland Protocol.

On Thursday (February 11) Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove met the European Commission’s vice-president, Maros Sefcovic, in London to attempt to thrash out the problems implementing post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland.

Gove and Sefcovic have pledged to meet again by February 24 to resolve the difficulties. Before then, British and European officials will hear from businesses in Northern Ireland who have complained about disruption to mainland Britain’s goods.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on January 29 briefly threatened to trigger an emergency clause in the Brexit divorce deal — Article 16 of the Protocol –to curb vaccine exports to Northern Ireland. That dramatically escalated tensions between London, Dublin, Belfast and the EU.

Before Thursday’s meeting, Gove said the Northern Ireland part of the Brexit deal wasn’t working and called for a reset in the EU’s relationship with Britain. The EU rebuffed Gove’s comments, saying that Britain needs to honour its promises on Northern Ireland as part of the Brexit deal.

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