| 3 March 2024, Sunday |

EU patience wearing thin with UK on N.Ireland, weighing options

The European Union’s tolerance with Britain on Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland is wearing thin, and if Britain continues on its “confrontational course,” the group would explore its options, an EU official warned on Monday.

On Wednesday, the European Commission and the United Kingdom will meet to discuss their trade agreement as well as their disputes over the Northern Ireland protocol, which is part of the Brexit divorce agreement.

According to the EU official, the British government must either commit to executing the protocol and finding the EU prepared to be flexible, or continue down a more confrontational road.

“The EU has been patient but the EU’s patience is wearing thin. If this continues, we will have to consider all the tools, all the options that are available,” said the official, who declined to be named.

The EU has launched legal action against Britain over a unilateral move to extend the grace period on checks and a related arbitration procedure. The official said this had not proven sufficient, leading to consideration of other tools, without offering details.

The British province holds a special place after Brexit, remaining in the EU single market for goods, which has led to checks on goods coming from mainland Britain.

The arrangement is designed to keep the Ireland/Northern Ireland border open and preserve the 1998 peace deal. However, pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland says it threatens the peace by dividing them from the rest of the United Kingdom.

The failure of the United Kingdom to execute the agreement, according to the European Commission, undermines trust.

It cites the stalling of border post construction, a failure to comply with tracking obligations to ensure food products remain in Northern Ireland, and EU officials’ limited access to customs IT systems.

On Sunday, David Frost, the British minister in charge of EU relations, warned that EU negotiators needed to show more pragmatism and less “legal purism” in their negotiations.

Medicines, guide dogs, livestock marking, and steel were among the sectors in which the EU was willing to be flexible, according to the EU official.

  • Reuters