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EU threatens to dig in over Ulster border checks row

EU threatens to dig in over Ulster border checks row as official warns major changes to arrangements are impossible

  • Brussels warned they are unwilling to ease checks on goods crossing Irish sea
  • Maros Sefcovic will arrive in London to meet Michael Gove over border problems
  • The Northern Ireland protocol is designed to avoid border on island of Ireland
  • This led to disruptions on goods crossing the Irish Sea because of new checks 

Brussels chiefs last night warned they are unwilling to ease checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea – sinking hopes of a breakthrough in crisis talks today.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic will arrive in London for a showdown with Michael Gove over the border problems.

As part of Brexit negotiations, the UK and EU agreed to the Northern Ireland protocol which is designed to avoid the need for a border on the island of Ireland. But this has led to disruption on goods crossing the Irish Sea, with new checks imposed on those moving from Britain to the province.

Brussels chiefs last night warned they are unwilling to ease checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea – sinking hopes of a breakthrough in crisis talks today. European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic (pictured) will arrive in London for a showdown with Michael Gove over the border problems

Since the arrangements came into force on January 1, supermarkets have reported empty shelves while concerns have been raised that Northern Ireland’s place within the UK is being undermined.

Boris Johnson has threatened to suspend parts of the Withdrawal Agreement unless the EU agrees to relax the checks.

The Government has called for the extension until 2023 of a series of grace periods that are in place for supermarket goods, chilled meats, parcels, medicines and pets crossing the Irish Sea.

Mr Gove has criticised red tape impacting trade from Britain to Northern Ireland, including a ban on exports of plants if they have any soil on them. 

Last night in a letter to Mr Gove (pictured) ahead of their meeting, Mr Sefcovic warned it would not be possible to make major changes to the arrangements

‘It does not threaten, I believe, the integrity of the EU single market to have bulbs ordered from a wholesaler in Scotland or England which will then be planted in a garden in Belfast or Ballymena,’ he told the Commons European scrutiny committee earlier this week.

But last night in a letter to Mr Gove ahead of their meeting, Mr Sefcovic warned it would not be possible to make major changes to the arrangements.

He warned that ‘blanket derogations’ from EU rules on chilled meats and parcels ‘cannot be agreed beyond what the protocol foresees already’.

He said the British Government had committed to a ‘path towards full compliance with’ EU law. But he signalled that a limited extension of the grace periods may be possible. 

Boris Johnson (pictured) has threatened to suspend parts of the Withdrawal Agreement unless the EU agrees to relax the checks

‘It is with this in mind that we should work together to find pragmatic solutions,’ he added. Mr Sefcovic warned it would be possible to remove the restrictions on plants and pets crossing the Irish Sea only if the Government was willing to ‘align with the relevant EU rules’.

Whitehall officials last night suggested the letter showed Brussels does not fully comprehend the gravity of the situation. A Government source said: ‘The meeting is a chance for the commission to show they understand the situation on the ground in Northern Ireland.’

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