Brussels (Brussels Morning) Britain and the EU have reiterated their commitment to resolving the post-Brexit trade problems revolving around the Northern Ireland border, an issue that was exacerbated by the European Commission’s reaction to potential COVID-19 vaccine exports from the EU to the UK, Reuters reported.
After British Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and European Commission Vice President Maroš Ševčović on Thursday, they issued a joint statement, referring to their “frank but constructive discussion”.
The two sides found themselves at odds as Northern Ireland was hit by supply disruptions after Brexit, with the North retaining its soft border with the Republic of Ireland to preserve the Good Friday Agreement. For this reason, the Brexit deal included the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, which necessitated customs checks between the province and mainland Britain.
Britain, trade disrupted between the mainland and Northern Ireland, asked the EU for an extension of the grace period for the province, and has sought other concessions as well. However, Šefčović ruled out most of the concessions, saying that the existing Protocol already includes all the necessary tools for the UK to address the trade problems.
Gove sought the concessions after the European Commission acted in perceived bad faith when it nearly activated Article 16 of the Protocol in a move to prevent possible exports of COVID-19 vaccines produced in the EU to the UK via the Ireland-Northern Ireland route. The Commission quickly cancelled these plans, but the diplomatic damage was already done.
Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheal Martin has called on both sides to “dial down the rhetoric”. “We just need to calm it, because ultimately we want the United Kingdom aligning well with the European Union. We want harmonious, sensible relationships,” Martin told RTE radio.