The EU has accused the UK government of “shortcomings” over implementing the Northern Ireland protocol, ahead of a meeting between the government and the bloc in London.
The protocol was the way in which a “hard border” was prevented on the island of Ireland following the agreement of a Brexit deal in December – but has resulted in some additional checks for goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
In a letter to Michael Gove, the vice president of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, says while he recognises the progress being made on implementing the protocol, there are a “number of current shortcomings preventing the protocol and our practical arrangements from delivering on the ground”.
Among the “teething problems”, Mr Sefcovic says border entry posts are not yet operational, which he adds means that very few checks are being made on livestock and plants at the border.
Mr Sefcovic adds that the UK has not yet given border officials access to the relevant IT systems as agreed, and says the government has issued guidance that hauliers moving goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain do not have to submit “equivalent information” to authorities – despite agreements on the contrary.
He says he wants the UK and the EU to work together in order to make the protocol work.
His remarks were published as a survey of UK exporters by the British Chambers of Commerce found that 49% were struggling to adapt to post-Brexit trading changes with the EU last month – prompting calls for more government support.
The letter comes ahead of a meeting on Friday between Mr Gove and Mr Sefcovic in London amid tensions around the triggering of Article 16 by the EU over vaccine distribution.
Article 16 overrides part of the Northern Ireland protocol that prevents a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and was intended as an emergency measure.
Last month the EU entered into a row with vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca over changes to the amount of jabs it would deliver to the bloc – triggering the union to implement Article 16 to prevent deliveries of vaccines from EU countries to the UK via Northern Ireland “through the back door”.
The bloc subsequently reversed the move following condemnation from London, Dublin and Belfast.
A UK government spokesperson said it was “disappointing that the Commission has failed to acknowledge the shock and anger felt right across the community in Northern Ireland from its decision to trigger Article 16, and the need to take urgent steps to restore confidence as a result”.
They added: “The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will underline the need for such action and political leadership in this regard when meeting with Vice-President Sefcovic in London.”
The first minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, has asked Mr Gove and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “act on” their unionist beliefs, and has accused the EU of not respecting the sovereignty of the UK.
She said: “It is up to our government to challenge them on that and the fact that they are separating out Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom,” she said.
The DUP leader said the issues with the protocol are “fundamental”, adding: “You can’t even get a pot plant from Great Britain into Northern Ireland at the moment which is absolutely incredible.”
Meanwhile, the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has apologised for the “mistakes” that led to the triggering of Article 16, and has admitted she underestimated the vaccine rollout for the bloc.
— to news.sky.com