Brexit: EU Backs Down on Northern Ireland Protocol Legal Challenge

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a press conference with Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at Government Buildings in Dublin, on January 15, 2020. (Photo by Paul Faith / AFP) (Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images)
PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images

The European Commission agreed to a “standstill” on legal action against the United Kingdom over supposed breaches of the Brexit divorce deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol, which the bloc launched in March.

The EU said that it will pause legal proceedings in order to consider proposals made by Brexit minister Lord David Frost, who claimed last week that the custom controls imposed by the bloc in Northern Ireland has “severely disrupted trade” between Ulster and the rest of the United Kingdom.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said per The Telegraph: “While the EU will not renegotiate the Protocol, we stand ready to address all the issues arising in the practical implementation of the Protocol in a spirit of good faith and cooperation.

“It is essential that we continue constructive discussions in the weeks ahead.

“With regards to the request for a standstill, the Commission will carefully assess the new proposals made by the UK, in accordance with the necessary consultation procedures, both internally, and with the European Parliament.

“In order to provide the necessary space to reflect on these issues and find durable solutions to the implementation of the Protocol, we have decided, at this stage, not to move to the next stage of the infringement procedure, started in March.”

On Tuesday, a UK Government spokeswoman said: “We have received a constructive reply from the Commission in response to our request for a standstill on existing arrangements.

“We look forward to engaging in talks with the EU in the weeks ahead to progress the proposals in our command paper.

“As we set out in the Command Paper last week, significant changes are needed to ensure the Protocol is sustainable for future.”

The European Union argued during the Brexit negotiations that an open border between the EU member state of the Republic of Ireland and the UK country of Northern Ireland was needed in order to preserve peace between British unionists and the minority Irish nationalist faction within Ulster.

The supposed concern over peace expressed from the bloc was later proven to be dubious, as the EU themselves tried to introduce a hard border for vaccines earlier this year without even consulting the national government of Ireland beforehand, or indeed the governments in London and Belfast.

At the same time, the EU also claimed that for there to be an open border, it would be necessary for Northern Ireland to remain under the customs and regulatory controls of the bloc, thereby establishing a de facto internal border within the United Kingdom.

While Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government agreed to the terms of the deal as a part of the Brexit negotiation, it has now admitted that such an arrangement is “unworkable”.

The dispute, which has been dubbed by the British media as the Sausage Wars over the EU’s focus on controlling British foodstuffs, has sparked tension within Northern Ireland, with many unionists feeling that they were sold out by the Conservative-run government in the deal.

The grace period on customs controls on chilled meats and other are set to expire in September. It remains to be seen if the two sides will be able to come to an agreement over the matter.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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