UK tells EU it will keep waiving Northern Ireland Brexit checks

EuroActiv Politico News

LONDON — The U.K. will continue not implementing post-Brexit checks on agri-food and other products entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, it told the EU in a letter.

The British government replied Thursday to European Commission action over alleged breaches of the Northern Ireland Protocol, a key part of the Brexit divorce deal regulating the arrival of goods in the region from the rest of the U.K.

In a letter, delivered by the U.K.’s mission to the EU, the government set out its unilateral decision to carry on with the status quo, a U.K. official said. British ministers had argued the so-called grace periods were threatened by the Commission’s legal action.

The move stops short of a threat the U.K. had flirted with over the summer — triggering Article 16 of the protocol, an emergency clause allowing either side to suspend parts of it.

The U.K. continues to argue that maintaining the status quo is necessary to allow talks to proceed with the EU on the long-running protocol dispute. It is meanwhile refusing to withdraw its controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which would eventually allow ministers to impose the U.K.’s unilateral approach permanently.

Following the introduction of that bill in June, the Commission triggered a host of infringement proceedings, taking aim at the way the U.K. is handling the protocol. London argues that the post-Brexit arrangement for Northern Ireland is overly bureaucratic for businesses, and points to deep opposition among unionist politicians in the region. Brussels points out that the U.K. signed up to the arrangement, which was intended to avoid checks at Northern Ireland’s border with EU member state Ireland while protecting the bloc’s single market.

London has also requested a meeting next week to discuss Britain’s frozen accession to EU schemes such as Horizon Europe and Copernicus, as part of the U.K.’s formal dispute proceedings against the Commission over the matter launched last month.

The British government has declined to publish the letter or make any statements on its content as politics remains paused during the 10-day period of mourning for Queen Elizabeth II.

A Commission spokesman confirmed receipt of the letter Thursday morning. “We will analyze the reply before deciding on next steps,” he said.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will visit London to attend the queen’s funeral Monday, but it remains unclear whether she will meet new Prime Minister Liz Truss before heading to New York for the U.N. General Assembly.

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