United Kingdom

EU threatens legal action and possible fines in border row

Brussels threatened legal action yesterday after a bitter row exploded over the Government's decision to unilaterally extend a grace period for Irish border checks.

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said the EU felt it was dealing with a partner it 'simply cannot trust' and was examining its legal options – a move that could see the UK being fined or extra tariffs being slapped on British goods.

MEPs also indicated they could delay formal ratification of the wider Brexit deal, the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA), pending the outcome of the dispute.

Brussels threatened legal action yesterday after a bitter row exploded over the Government's decision to unilaterally extend a grace period for Irish border checks. Lorries are seen coming off a ferry from Scotland into the port of Larne, Northern Ireland yesterday

But Boris Johnson insisted that 'goodwill and common sense' would bring a resolution to the issues over the Irish Sea trading arrangements, which have lingered since Britain formally left the post-Brexit transition period.

The Prime Minister said last night the problems were 'eminently solvable' despite threats of legal action.

On Wednesday night, the Government angered EU ministers by unilaterally extending a grace period that limits red tape on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney (pictured) said the EU felt it was dealing with a partner it 'simply cannot trust' and was examining its legal options – a move that could see the UK being fined or extra tariffs being slapped on British goods

Mr Johnson said: 'We are taking some temporary and technical measures to ensure that there are no barriers in the Irish Sea, to make sure things flow freely between GB and NI, and that's what you would expect. Obviously, these are matters for continuing intensive discussions with our friends.

'I'm sure with a bit of goodwill and common sense all these technical problems are eminently solvable.'

FACT BOX TITLE

Britain will pay £11billion into the EU budget this year, despite Brexit.

Treasury documents reveal the sum is part of the estimated £50billion 'divorce bill' negotiated by Theresa May and signed off by Boris Johnson.

Britain gave £10.9billion in the last year of full membership.

During Brexit talks Brussels said the UK had to contribute to the bloc's seven-year budget even after leaving. Payments are due to fall to £8.7billion next year.

The Northern Ireland Protocol delivered a temporary solution to prevent a hard border in Ireland – which goes against the Good Friday Agreement.

Goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Great Britain have been subjected to added processes and checks since the Brexit transition period ended on December 31. 

To give businesses time to adjust, grace periods on checks were introduced to prevent red tape.

The first of these grace periods was due to expire at the end of March, but the Government has said it will be extended until October. The announcement, which took the EU by surprise, prompted fury.

Mr Coveney described the move as 'very frustrating', telling RTE: 'This is not the first time this has happened, that they (the EU) are negotiating with a partner that they simply cannot trust.' 

He said he preferred 'engagement', but the UK Government was driving the EU towards legal action.

The EU also threatened to fine the UK – or to slap harmful tariffs on goods – over the row.

A European Commission source said it could take legal action for a breach of the protocol. It means that the European Court of Justice can fine the UK, and the EU can increase tariffs.

A UK source said they were 'surprised' by the EU's reaction and accused Brussels of making a 'song and dance' about it.

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