Brussels and London determined to avoid drama as grace period extended

Calm response to Britain’s unilateral Northern Ireland protocol deadline extension

David Frost said he rejected idea that Northern Ireland protocol primarily about protecting European single market. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

David Frost said he rejected idea that Northern Ireland protocol primarily about protecting European single market. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

 

 Britain’s unilateral extension of grace periods under the Northern Ireland protocol is in breach of the agreement in just the same way as the earlier unilateral actions which prompted the European Commission to launch infringement proceedings. But the commission’s muted response to the latest action reflects the fact that in political and diplomatic terms, this was a different kind of unilateralism.

  Brussels knew in advance what Britain was planning to do and the two sides co-ordinated their statements, agreeing to adopt the least incendiary tone possible. Both sides want to take some of the heat out of the dispute over the protocol and are eager to avoid the looming cliff edge at the end of September when more restrictions, including on chilled meats, were due to come into force.

  The indefinite extension of the grace periods, along with the EU’s pausing of its legal action against Britain, fulfil UK minister David Frost’s demand for a “standstill” to allow for a discussion of his proposals for major changes to the protocol. The commission will not immediately initiate proceedings in response to the latest action but it “reserves its rights in respect of infringement proceedings”.

  It is notable that London has not set a deadline for the end of talks on its proposals and Brussels did not put a time limit on its acquiescence in the extension of grace periods. This reflects Britain’s wish to demonstrate that it is approaching the negotiations with moderation and the EU’s to show that it is willing to be flexible.

  Both sides understand the practical difficulties the protocol has presented for businesses and consumers in Northern Ireland and the need to make it less intrusive. But while the EU believes most problems can be resolved through a more flexible implementation of the agreement, Britain insists that the protocol is unbalanced.

  Frost, Britain’s Brexit negotiator, told the British Irish Association in Oxford at the weekend that the protocol should not be seen primarily as being about protecting the European single market.

  “Any approach which views this as being the ‘heart’ of the protocol, as its primary aim, is fundamentally flawed and unbalances it,” he said.

  The EU on Monday again ruled out any renegotiation of the protocol and there is no prospect at present of any change in that position. But the tone of Frost’s statement and the moderation of the EU’s response to it suggest that, even if the negotiations ahead will be difficult, both sides are determined to avoid unnecessary drama.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.