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04 Mar 2021 | 10:00

EU threatens UK with legal action over post-Brexit trade arrangement

(Sharecast News) - The European Union is threatening the UK with legal action over differences on their post-Brexit trade agreement and more specifically areas involving Northern Ireland. Both sides agreed to conduct checks on goods moving across the Irish Sea, going from Scotland, Wales and England to Northern Ireland as the latter is still part of the bloc's single market for goods.

The clause was signed as a measure to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland and respect the Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998. Britain had until the end of March 2021 to implement the checks, but it has decided to extend the implementation period until October.

The European Commission argues that this breaches the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol and international law.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic expressed the EU's "strong concerns over the UK's unilateral action, as this amounts to a violation of the relevant substantive provisions of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland."

"The European Commission will respond to these developments in accordance with the legal means established," he added.

London responded by saying the UK had warned the commission earlier this week before going public with the news and argued that the delay was a "temporary" technical step "to provide more time for businesses such as supermarkets and parcel operators to adapt to and implement the new requirements."

Simon Coveney, Ireland's foreign affairs chief, said the UK's decision is "deeply unhelpful to building the relationship of trust and partnership that is central to the implementation of the Protocol."

"The Irish Government's focus remains on ensuring that the Protocol, as an international agreement concluded by the EU and UK, is fully implemented. It is the agreed solution to the problems created on the island of Ireland by Brexit," he added.

Brexit tension was not just confined to the UK and EU. On Thursday Northern Irish loyalist paramilitary groups told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson they would be withdrawing support for the 1998 peace agreement (Good Friday Agreement) over concerns regarding the Northern Irish Protocol.

The groups, including the Ulster Volunteer Force, Ulster Defence Association and Red Hand Commando pledged "peaceful and democratic" opposition to the deal and voiced their discontent over the disruption in trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

They said they would not restore support for the deal until their rights were restored and the Northern Irish Protocol was amended to safeguard trade between Northern Ireland and Britain.

"Please do not under-estimate the strength of feeling on this issue right across the unionist family," the letter said. "If you or the EU is not prepared to honour the entirety of the agreement then you will be responsible for the permanent destruction of the agreement."

The decision to delay the checks also comes as Britain and the EU are on course to agree a deal on regulatory cooperation in financial services.

Mairead McGuinness, the bloc's financial services chief told Politico on Thursday that the negotiations were on track but the UK's action in Northern Ireland made it hard for the EU to build trust.
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