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EU 'Concerned' Over UK's Unilateral Move to Extend Brexit Grace Period in Northern Ireland

© AP Photo / Virginia MayoEuropean Union flags flutter in the wind outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020
European Union flags flutter in the wind outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020 - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.03.2021
Since the UK formally left the EUs economic framework at the beginning of 2021, an effective customs border was drawn down the Irish sea to prevent customs checks from being enforced between the Republic and Northern Ireland. Once the "grace period" ends, however, imports from Britain will have set requirements placed on them.

The European Union said on Wednesday it is "disappointing" that the UK is pursuing unilateral action in extending the Brexit "grace period" without informing Brussels.

In a statement by European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, he said the move amounts to a violation of substantive provisions in the Northern Ireland protocol. The EU added that it will respond to developed with legal means set out in treaties signed with the UK.

He reiterated that "the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is the only way to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions, and to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland".

"The Vice-President has also recalled that at the last EU-UK Joint Committee on 24 February, the UK reiterated its commitment to the proper implementation of the Protocol, as well as the implementation without delay of all decisions taken in the Joint Committee in December 2020", the statement said.

​This follows the revelation that Boris Johnson will attempt to unilaterally change aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol in order to make the situation more favourable to British businesses.

In a written statement, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said the UK would be “taking several temporary operational steps to avoid disruptive cliff edges as engagement with the EU continues”.

He announced that the grace period, where post-Brexit restrictions and checks across the Ireland of Island are not fully implemented, would be extended until 1 October at least. 

“For supermarkets and their suppliers, as part of the operational plan the UK committed to at the UK-EU Joint Committee on 24 February, the current Scheme for Temporary Agri-food Movements to Northern Ireland (STAMNI) will continue until 1 October. Certification requirements will then be introduced in phases alongside the roll out of the Digital Assistance Scheme", the letter said.

He added that "further guidance will be provided later this week on parcel movements from Great Britain to Northern Ireland to provide necessary additional time for traders beyond 1 April".

"Guidance will also be set out to help address practical problems on soil attached to the movement of plants, seeds, bulbs, vegetables and agricultural machinery".
“And the Government will write to the Northern Ireland Executive to confirm that flexibilities within the Official Controls Regulation 2017/625 are such that no charging regime is required for agri-food goods".

The grace period is set to expire at the end of March. London had previously requested an extension from Brussels until 2023, but the EU has not accepted.

Supermarkets across Northern Ireland have faced supply problems since the institution of the Brexit deal and the withdrawal of the UK from the EU's economic structures on 1 January.

The protocol was introduced in order to maintain regulatory alignment between the Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and prevent the erection of a hard border.

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