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MNI INTERVIEW: NI Grace Periods Seen Extended As EU Talks Drag

MNI (London)

Grace periods for trade between Britain and Northern Ireland will have to be extended as tough talks with the EU continue, Lord Jay tells MNI.

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Grace periods for implementing checks on goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland will inevitably be extended as negotiations over the post-Brexit protocol governing trade with the province drag on beyond September with no guarantee of success, the chair of a House of Lords EU Affairs sub-committee on the protocol told MNI.

Lord Jay warned that the danger cannot be discounted that the UK could eventually activate Article 16, which gives both sides the power to take unilateral action should the protocol give rise to serious economic or societal difficulties. This would make an eventual deal still harder to achieve, and would be "a big mistake, he added in an interview.

"If Article 16 is invoked then that makes it much harder to build up the trust which you need in order to reach an agreement," Jay said. "That would make a resolution much, much harder."

A new Lords sub-committee report said the protocol, which was designed to ensure the integrity of the EU single market while avoiding a hard border with checks on goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, was never properly explained to the people of the province. Its implementation has consequently "come as a shock, contributing to political instability in Northern Ireland and exacerbating underlying community tensions."

UNDER THE RADAR TALKS

The grace period agreed on the vexed issue of chilled meats, needed because of the lack of common veterinary regulations in the UK and the EU, expires at the end of September.

"I think there is going to have be some kind of extension of grace periods and the negotiations … have to take longer than between now and the end of September if there is to be an agreement," Jay said. "But I don't think you can keep kicking the can down the road forever, because if there is no agreement at all then that … leads to a breakdown in relations between the EU and the UK and leads to real difficulties."

Jay, a former senior UK Foreign Office official with decades of experience in European affairs, said he believed talks were going on between London and Brussels " in a sensible, under the radar kind of way", but added that there was no guarantee of a deal.

"Ultimately it is an agreement at political level that counts. That is where the trust is needed," he said.

The report highlights how trade between Britain and Northern Ireland has suffered following Brexit, while trade between Norther Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has been boosted, with some GB businesses ceasing to try and deliver supplies to their NI arms.

The protocol "does enable Northern Ireland to be part of the UK single market and the EU single market and that is a real advantage for investors" but "you need to have stability and you need to have peace if you are going to be able to exploit those single markets," Jay said.