Brussels set to REJECT British pleas for a two-year Northern Ireland trade grace period


The EU is set to rebuff attempts by the Government to delay wider rules on goods entering Northern Ireland amid chaos and anger at post-Brexit delays.

Michael Gove has asked Brussels to extend a grace period before full trade rules agreed when the UK left the EU are imposed, until 2023.

But while Ireland has said it is open to a ‘modest’ extension, EU leaders are said to have ruled that an extension of three to six months is the most they will allow, the Telegraph reported.

The Northern Ireland Protocol signed off by Boris Johnson in December avoided creating a hard border with the Republic of Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market – but this means goods from the UK mainland must be checked when they arrive in Belfast or Larne.

The measures have caused disruption to imports from the rest of the UK which have resulted in shortages of some food in supermarkets in Ulster.

Checks at Northern Irish ports on goods travelling between Britain and the province were suspended last week after anonymous threats from hardline loyalists were sent to EU and UK customs officials.

It came as a senior Cabinet minister took aim at Brussels over new rules on British shellfish exports.

The EU says British fishermen are indefinitely banned from selling live mussels, oysters, clams, cockles and scallops to member states. The shellfish can only be transported to the Continent if they have already been treated in purification plants.

But Environment Secretary George Eustice told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The truth is there is no legal barrier to this trade continuing, both on animal health grounds and on public health grounds – there is legal provision within existing EU regulations to allow such trade to continue from the UK.

‘We are just asking the EU to abide by their existing regulations and not to seek to change them.

‘They did change their position just last week – prior to that they had been clear that this was a trade that could continue – so we want to work to understand why they are proposing a change at this stage.’

He said the UK is hoping it can resolve the issue with the EU and ‘get them to abide by their own regulations’.

Last night he warned  Britain could start boarding European fishing boats to interrupt their catches unless Brussels backs down.

Mr Eustice’s signal of a tougher approach came as Michael Gove scolded the European Commission for prioritising its ‘integrationist theology’ over peace in Northern Ireland.

Ahead of crunch talks with the EU later this week, the Cabinet Office minister also called for pragmatism and practicality – this time in resolving trade issues.

Boris Johnson has warned he is ready to suspend parts of the Brexit deal unless the EU agrees to ease checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea.

Appearing before MPs on the European scrutiny committee yesterday, Mr Gove criticised the impact of red tape on trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, including a ban on plant exports if they have any soil on them.

‘It does not threaten… the integrity of the EU single market to have bulbs ordered from a wholesaler in Scotland or England which will then be planted in a garden in Belfast or Ballymena,’ he said.

‘We need to be pragmatic and practical… if people put a particular type of integrationist theology ahead of the interests of the people of Northern Ireland they are not serving the cause of peace and progress.’

Mr Gove will discuss the issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol with the European Commission’s Maros Sefcovic on Thursday.

‘Progress is being made but we are very far from resolving all those problems,’ Mr Gove told MPs yesterday.

The progress ‘has not been as fast as I would like’, he said, but ‘the commission has its own processes, I respect the integrity of those and I respect the desire of vice president Sefcovic to make progress’.

Two men charged with painting graffiti condemning Irish Sea border checks in a Northern Ireland port town have been granted bail.

Mechanic William Donnell, 21, and farm labourer Mitchell Leeburn, 25, appeared at Coleraine Magistrates’ Court yesterday.

Donnell, from Belfast Road in Larne, and Leeburn, from Deerpark Road, Kilwaughter, both face eight counts of criminal damage and a further count of possessing an article, namely spray paint, with intent to damage property.

All the alleged offences occurred in Larne on Saturday.

The charges relate to graffiti at a variety of locations in the town, including on several retail outlets, Northern Ireland Housing Executive properties, a Roads Service road sign, a number of walls and a billboard.

The case will be heard again at Ballymena Magistrates’ Court on March 25.