In a letter sent to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, the MEPs from Fianna Fail, Sinn Féin, the Greens and independents firmly urged Brussels to allow an extension of ‘grace periods’ which mean that parts of the internal UK trade frontier are not yet being enforced.
There are multiple grace periods but two which will require supermarkets to secure costly and time-consuming Export Health Certificates for every consignment of every item containing anything from an animal which crosses the Irish Sea will have expired by the end of next month.
A grace period exempting GB-NI commercial parcels from customs declarations will also expire at the end of next month, while pets will face checks crossing the Irish Sea and some British meat products such as chilled sausages will be banned entirely from Northern Ireland from July.
Yesterday’s letter from Irish MEPs said that the “mistaken” use of Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol to attempt to block vaccines leaving the EU via Northern Ireland emphasised how the EU needed to “re-examine its decision making process to ensure that appropriate sensitivity is always afforded to the complex situation on the island of Ireland”.
Outlining how tensions had “risen along sensitive political lines”, they said that “it is our view that the EU must act promptly to calm this situation and restore stability and protect the Good Friday Agreement. To do so, the EU must consider a limited extension to the grace periods to protect against avoidable difficulties.
The MEPs also called for Stormont ministers to have “appropriate representation at relevant EU meetings” to at least partially address the problem that Northern Ireland will be bound by laws over which its people have no democratic say.
Alluding to the Assembly having its first say on the new Irish Sea border in less than four years’ time, the MEPs warned: “Support for the protocol in four years’ time is far from guaranteed, and the political, economic and social consequences of its discontinuation would be hugely significant.
The letter was signed by Fianna Fail’s Barry Andrews and Billy Kelleher, independents Mick Wallace and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, Grace O’Sullivan and Ciaran Cuffe of the Greens, socialist Clare Daly, and Sinn Féin’s Chris MacManus.
Last week the Fine Gael Tanaiste, Simon Coveney, said that he was open to “modest extensions” of the grace periods – potentially opening up debate between London, Brussels and DUblin as to whether those extensions should be until 2023, as Michael Gove has requested, or for a shorter period.
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