UK calls for EU reset, Brexit refinement

·2-min read

Britain has called for a reset in relations with the European Union and a refinement of a Brexit deal covering Northern Ireland, saying trust was eroded when Brussels attempted to restrict COVID-19 vaccine supplies.

Relations between Brussels and London strained by years of bruising trade talks plummeted last month when the EU threatened to use emergency measures to stop vaccines going from the bloc into Northern Ireland.

To avoid creating a hard border on the island of Ireland, Northern Ireland remained within the EU's single market for goods under the Brexit deal, effectively creating a frontier within the United Kingdom.

The EU swiftly changed its position on the vaccines but London hopes to capitalise on the gaffe to win changes because the new rules have caused disruption in Britain's trade with Northern Ireland.

"It was a moment when trust was eroded, when damage was done and where movement is required in order to ensure we have an appropriate reset," Michael Gove, who is in charge of implementing the divorce deal, told a parliamentary committee on Monday.

Gove scolded the bloc for putting its members above the people of Northern Ireland by raising the prospect of checks on vaccines at the border - something Brussels has long said it wanted to avoid.

"If people put a particular type of integrationist theology ahead of the interests of the people of Northern Ireland they are not serving the cause of peace and progress in Northern Ireland, and that is my principal and overriding concern," he said.

The EU's swift U-turn has emboldened British ministers and Gove last week wrote to European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic demanding changes to the so-called Northern Ireland protocol.

He demanded grace periods for the transport of food from Britain to Northern Ireland be extended from a few months to two years.

"There are a number of issues ... where we believe we do need refinement of the way in which the protocol operates for it to be effective in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland," Gove said.

The EU is poised to reject the calls for the extension of the grace periods, London's Telegraph reported late on Monday, citing British government sources.

The European Commission, the EU executive, is likely to agree to only a three- to six-month extension of arrangements in place for traders moving goods between Britain and the province, it added.

Some Northern Irish politicians have called for the protocol to be scrapped, saying it has caused supermarket shortages and impeded the delivery of goods.