EU Promises retaliation as UK extends "grace period" for checks on food imports into Northern Ireland

The EU promised retaliation on Wednesday after the British government unilaterally extended a grace period for checks on food imports to Northern Ireland, a move Brussels said violated terms of Britain’s divorce deal Reuters reports.

Britain’s relations with Brussels have reached a low with both sides accusing the other of acting in bad faith in relation to part of their trade agreement that covers goods movements to Northern Ireland.

The British government extended a grace period for some checks on agricultural and food products imported by retailers to Northern Ireland until October 1st in a move it said was necessary to ensure the free flow of goods to the British region.

In a statement, the European Commission expressed “strong concerns” at a move it said amounted to a violation of the substantive provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the most contentious part of Britain’s divorce deal with the EU.

“This is the second time that the UK government is set to breach international law,” the statement said. Britain last year moved to include clauses in draft domestic legislation that breached the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement but later withdrew them.

European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic held a call with David Frost, the British minister responsible for ties with the EU, on Wednesday evening to express his concern.

Frost told him the extension was temporary and largely continued measures already in place to provide more time for businesses such as supermarkets and parcel operators to adapt, according to a British government spokeswoman.

“He underlined that these were needed for operational reasons and were the minimum necessary steps to allow time for constructive discussions in the Joint Committee to continue,” she said, adding that Frost said urgent progress was needed and that Britain was acting in good faith to meet its obligations.

The European Commission said it would respond in accordance with the legal means established by the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

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