DUBLIN (Reuters) – Britain’s decision to make unilateral changes to Northern Ireland’s Brexit arrangement is “not the proper behavior of a respectable country” and will erode confidence with the European Union, the senior Irish minister said on Thursday.
The European Union pledged legal action on Wednesday after the British government unilaterally extended a grace period for inspecting food imports to Northern Ireland, a move Brussels said violated the terms of the UK divorce deal.
“For the second time in months, the British government is threatening to violate international law,” Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told Virgin Media television, referring to a similar one-sided move last year that London ultimately canceled.
To be honest, this was not the proper behavior of a respectable country.
The fate of Northern Ireland was the most hotly contested issue during Britain’s Brexit negotiations, with London ultimately agreeing to leave UK-ruled territory aligned with the EU’s single market for goods, requiring checks on some of the goods arriving there from elsewhere in Great Britain.
That has created difficulties for businesses that say they are having trouble bringing in supplies, and more checks will be put in place when the grace period ends on March 31. Many business groups welcomed the move on Wednesday.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney warned that it was not the first time that the EU had seen Britain as an “untrustworthy” negotiating partner.
He said it also undermined Ireland’s efforts to convince Brussels of the need to make some changes to Northern Ireland protocol and targeted the new British minister overseeing EU relations, David Frost.
“Before Lord Frost spoke in detail with (EU Commission Vice President) Maros Sefcovic in his new role, this was announced. To say it is rude, would be an understatement, “Coveney told national broadcaster RTE.
“Vice President Sefcovic has shown a real willingness to try to resolve the issue of protocol and to make cases in the European Commission, Parliament and Council of Europe and make progress on that. To him being tampered with in this way by the British government was very unhelpful. “
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Edited by Alex Richardson and Giles Elgood