Britain announced on Monday that it is once again postponing the implementation of border checks on goods travelling to Northern Ireland.
Brexit Minister David Frost said the government would continue to trade “on the current basis,” maintaining grace periods that the UK gave itself after splitting from the EU’s economic embrace at the end of 2020. He did not set a new end date for the grace periods.
Frost said the standstill would “provide space for potential further discussions” with the EU over the two sides’ deep differences on the Brexit divorce agreement.
London and Brussels have been at loggerheads over the Northern Ireland Protocol since the UK's divorce from the bloc came into force on January 1, 2021. The British province remains within the EU's customs unions, meaning that checks must be carried out on certain goods travelling between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
British authorities — including Prime Minister Boris, who renegotiated the Withdrawal Agreement after taking over from Theresa May in Downing Street — now lambasts the arrangement as absurd as it effectively creates a border in the Irish Sea. They have asked for a "total overhaul" of the agreement.
'We will not agree to a renegotiation'
The EU, which operates zero tariffs between member states, argues the checks are necessary to safeguard its single market, remains steadfast that no physical border be erected between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland over concerns that it could lead to a flare-up in sectarian violence.
But it has granted a "grace period" over the implementation of the protocol and agreed to extensions. A grace period on the exports of chilled meats between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is to expire on September 30.
London has in the past said it wanted the current arrangements to last until 2021 which Brussels has refused, even launching legal proceedings against the UK over the protocol before halting them in July in order to "find durable solutions".
The European Commission said on Monday evening that they "take note" of the latest UK statement, flagging that "we will not agree to a renegotiation of the Protocol."
"We continue to stress that the Withdrawal Agreement is an international agreement. The Protocol is an integral part of the Withdrawal Agreement and the agreed solution between the UK and the EU to the problems caused by Brexit for the island of Ireland. Both sides are legally bound to fulfil their obligations under the Agreement," the statement from the Commission added.
Brussels also said that it "reserves its rights in respect to infringement proceedings" but that it is not, "at present", moving forward with the next stage of the proceedings it halted in July or opening any new infringements.
Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he expected the EU would agree to an extension of the grace periods in order to allow for “deep and meaningful” talks with Britain.