The National:

YESTERDAY was a busy enough news day for some: a UK budget, a Scottish parliamentary hearing, and the latest antics of the British royals. Perhaps most importantly, the British Government once again declared its intention to break international law.

In a discrete written statement submitted to the House of Lords, the Cabinet Office informed the House that it was taking the unilateral decision to extend the grace periods of checks on food imports from Great Britain into Northern Ireland by six months.

This measure is a clear breach of the Irish/Northern Irish protocol of the post Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, it is foolhardy and irresponsible.

Let’s be clear, there is no question about the merits of the ends, but the means chosen is of major concern and will come with very grave consequences.

Prior to this rash and unilateral move, the British Government and the European Commission were engaged in frank but cordial discussion on how to achieve this very outcome. There was a common purpose and shared aims.

The impacts of the protocol on Northern Ireland have been well documented and at times well exaggerated by certain political elements who seek impossible outcomes, falsely claiming that supermarket shelves are empty.

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That said, the need to extend the grace periods of the Protocol was compelling, although businesses are making the necessary changes and adjustments. It was well understood by all that they need more time as this is their de facto transition period.

Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission Vice President who co-chairs the joint implementation committee, had met with Northern Irish business and political leaders; he was determined, along with the previous British co-chair Michael Gove, to deliver an agreeable outcome based on the requirements of the protocol and the realities of the political landscape.

This makes the move by the British Government yesterday even more stupendous; it was utterly unnecessary.

The Irish Government had been working constructively within the EU to help deliver an agreeable outcome on grace periods and flexibilities. The reaction from European colleagues to this latest shoot first, ask later approach has been understandably vexatious.

The National: European Commission President Ursula von der LeyenEuropean Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

Having been blindsided by this move, the European Commission is once again warning of legal actions against the British Government along the same lines as the previous attempt to break international law through amendments to the Internal Market Bill before Christmas.

However, the most worrying issue of all is that today, the European Parliament is due to begin the ratification process of the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the so called deal agreed on Christmas Eve to much fanfare that ensures tariff and quota free trade between the EU and the UK.

To be frank, this is now in jeopardy.

As such, the timing of this unilateral affront from the British Government couldn’t be more poorly chosen. What may have been a busy day to bury bad news from a domestic point of view, couldn’t have come at a more delicate time in the EU’s Brexit schedule.

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Once again, this is a case of a British Government being obsessed with the domestic audience, failing to realise that everything about Brexit is a two-way thing.

For all the palaver over the European Commission nearly triggering Article 16 of the protocol at the height of tensions over vaccine roll out, the same people who cheered the four-hour faux pas have been monumentally silent on this latest act of good faith.

Following some very tense engagements over the past five years, many had hoped we would now enter a great reset in relations between the EU and the UK. This move has scuppered any chance of that.

It has become clear, again, that the EU is dealing with an untrustworthy neighbour and this quite simply is not the way any honourable country should behave.