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UK extends its NI post-Brexit 'grace period'

By EARLE GALE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-09-08 09:07
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Loyalists protest against the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol at Belfast Harbour Estate, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, July 3, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

EU will hold back on legal action while London and Brussels seek way forward

The United Kingdom has again unilaterally delayed implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol, an agreement it reached with the European Union while leaving the bloc.

David Frost, the UK minister who oversaw Brexit, said in a statement to the British Parliament the extension of a "grace period" that was due to end on Oct 1 would "provide space for further potential discussions "with the EU.

The implementation of the deal, which is part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, had already been deferred several times since it was supposed to start on Jan 1.

While some deferrals of the protocol, which oversees trade on the island of Ireland, drew the ire of the EU, the European Commission said after Monday's announcement it will continue to pause legal action against the UK for its failure to implement the deal.

"Our focus remains on identifying long-term, flexible, and practical solutions to address issues related to the practical implementation of the protocol that citizens and businesses in Northern Ireland are experiencing," the EU said. "However, we will not agree to a renegotiation of the protocol."

The Financial Times newspaper said a senior European Union official added: "The idea is that the UK will continue to apply the same conditions … to allow for the discussions to conclude."

The bloc has consistently said it will not renegotiate the protocol but will look for solutions within the existing deal.

Leo Varadkar, deputy prime minister of EU member Republic of Ireland, explained on Radio 4's Today program: "We don't really see the case for renegotiating (the protocol) so soon. We think most of the solutions can be found within the existing agreement."

But Frost insists the protocol is "not sustainable" and said in a recent speech to the British-Irish Association that the UK does not want "solutions which involve 'flexibilities' within the current rules".

The protocol details how the UK province of Northern Ireland can receive goods from the British mainland while a hard border on the island of Ireland-the only land border between the UK and the EU-can be avoided.

A hard border became a flashpoint in the past for sectarian violence between groups that wanted a united Ireland and those that wanted it to remain partitioned.

The protocol recognizes goods cannot be allowed to flow into Northern Ireland from the UK without any checks, because they could then cross a soft border into the Republic of Ireland and the wider EU.

So, the protocol calls for goods entering Northern Ireland from the British mainland to be checked remotely for quality, tax liabilities, and compliance with EU customs rules.

However, the checks have proved hard to implement and require a large amount of paperwork, which has led the UK to delay implementing the protocol and demand its renegotiation.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, told the BBC businesses hope the latest grace period extension, which is of an undetermined length, will lead to real solutions.

"This cannot be another can-kicking exercise," he said. "Northern Ireland is in a unique situation, which requires a unique solution that is agreed by both the UK and EU."

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