A dispute over new trade rules for Northern Ireland has been escalating, which prompted officials from the UK and EU to hold a virtual conference last Feb. 03. UK Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and EU Vice-President Maros Šefčovič, along with Northern Ireland’s leaders discussed matters related to suspension of some NI ports following reports that the inspecting staff have been receiving “sinister” threats.
According to recent reports, the dispute is a result of a new Brexit agreement between UK and EU, regarding the checking of some British products entering Northern Ireland. The disagreements escalated as some deliveries for online shopping and food supplies for Northern Ireland, were delayed because the staff conducting the inspections reported receiving threats.
The situation was aggravated by the EU’s threat of imposing emergency controls on exports of COVID-19 vaccines arriving at the NI border. Apparently alarmed at the repercussions, the EU later withdrew the pronouncement.
In a joint statement after the virtual conference held with the leaders of Northern Ireland leaders, both the UK and EU leaders who attended the virtual talks said they condemn without reservations, any threats or intimidation; stressing that the utmost priority of both countries will be “the welfare and safety of the people of Northern Ireland.”
BBC Sources Disclosed that Talks Did Not Make Much Progress
Although a reiteration of their full support to the Good Friday Agreement was given by both the UK government and the EU Commission, an unnamed BBC source said the talks did not really make much progress as far as the implementation of the new rules are concerned. .
According to Laura Kuenssberg, the political editor of BBC, their source said not much progress came out of the virtual talks, but the officials on both sides have agreed to keep the lines for discussion open.
In the meantime, the UK government called for a temporary extension of the lighter rules being enforced at the NI border up to early 2023. Sinn Fein’s First Deputy Minister Michelle O’Neill, called Mr Šefčovič’s plan of personally going to the UK next week to engage in further discussions about the matter, is a “very constructive and pragmatic approach” to moving forward.
In a separate statement written via the Daily Telegraph, DUP leader and NI First Minister Arlene Foster, warned that Unionists in NI have been pushing the UK government to ease down checks on British goods entering Northern Ireland. The way the First Minister sees it, simply extending grace periods would not solve the problem, because for the Northern Ireland Protocol to work effectively, certain adjustments on the arrangements at the Irish border must take place.