London And Brussels Clash Again Over Irish Protocol Application

The latest round of talks in London has ended with no progress and the EU’s warning that the Brexit deal must be honored and not renegotiated. Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic says there is time to find a solution but does not rule out retaliation if London adopts new unilateral measures.

“We are at a crossroads in our relationship with the United Kingdom” and “trust must be restored” but “if they take further unilateral measures, the EU will not hesitate to react quickly, firmly and decisively to ensure that they fulfill their obligations. ”

The warning was launched this Wednesday by the vice president of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic , after several unsuccessful meetings in London that have not served to bring positions closer to the Government of Boris Johnson or redirect the application of the Northern Ireland Protocol . Brussels does not rule out the suspension of cooperation in some sectors and even the imposition of tariffs and quotas to British products.

The clash, dubbed in the British press as “the war of the sausages” because it affects a matter as sensitive as the shipments of minced meat from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, occurs a few hours before the start of the summit of leaders of the G-7 in Cornwall in what will be the first international trip for US President Joe Biden .

“We have had a frank and honest discussion … but there has been no progress. Nor has there been any break. We will continue talking. What we need now is to find solutions urgently,” said the British Secretary of State for Brexit, David Frost .

The problem is that as of June 30 the grace period that was granted six months ago ends and that from that date it will be prohibited to export this type of fresh products to Northern Ireland to avoid, since there are no border controls with Ireland, that they enter the internal market without the appropriate phytosanitary controls .

The EU considers that the problem would be solved with a veterinary and phytosanitary agreement , which according to Sefcovic, would allow the elimination of 80% of the controls. London, however, not only rejects this option, because it would force it to remain aligned with European rules, but threatens to unilaterally extend the grace period again.

Peace Agreements
It is this threat from London, about its willingness to skip the Irish Protocol, created to protect the Good Friday peace accords and prevent the return of a hard border to the island, that has tightened the rope again.

“We are showing a very constructive approach and enormous patience. We always prefer to negotiate and find a solution” but “we are at a crossroads” and “our patience is running out”, recalled the Vice-President of the Commission, admitting that the infringement procedures launched so far and the arbitration has not produced results because the British “have not responded to our concerns”.

Given this panorama and the lack of progress, the EU does not rule out retaliation . “I have not come here to give any ultimatum” nor “I have brought with me the menu of (possible) measures” but if the problems persist and the signed agreement is not fulfilled then there will be a European response, he has warned. The problems don’t just affect meat products.

There are also differences on the supply of medicines , VAT on second-hand cars , the passport of guide dogs or tariffs on steel. According to Sefcovic, the problem is that the EU “has neither eyes nor ears” in customs controls, which means that “we do not know what happens” at the border. Hence, “it is difficult” to accept a new extension without further ado.

“As things stand, none of the December agreement has been fulfilled. None of the guarantees they gave us in December. There is a fear that we are not protecting public health and the integrity of the internal market. That is why we are so careful “, has explained.

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