The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator says the bloc is ready to act “firmly and resolutely” if the U.K. fails to honor its commitments under the divorce deal that was supposed to keep trade flowing after Britain left the EU.
Maros Sefcovic’s comments, published Tuesday in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, came a day before he holds talks with U.K. Brexit Minister David Frost on implementing the agreement,
The relationship between the two sides has grown tense amid concerns over the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, part of the deal that is designed to protect the peace process in Northern Ireland by keeping an open border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.
The protocol has sparked anger in Northern Ireland because it creates a customs border between the region and the rest of the U.K., creating new red tape for businesses. Pro-British unionists also fear it will weaken the ties between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
The EU says the provisions — agreed upon by the U.K. and the EU as part of Britain’s exit terms from the 27-nation bloc — are needed to protect the EU single market.
The U.K. angered Brussels earlier this year when it unilaterally extended a grace period delaying the inspection of many supermarket items shipped to Northern Ireland from England, Scotland and Wales. The Telegraph reported that the U.K. may extend this action to include chilled meats such as sausages and ground beef, which won’t be allowed into Northern Ireland from July 1 unless the two sides strike a deal.
Sefcovic cautioned against such action, saying negotiators should strive to achieve “mutually agreed compliance paths.”
“If this does not happen, and if the U.K. takes further unilateral action over the coming weeks, the EU will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure that the UK abides by its international law obligations.”
While Sefcovic didn’t specify what those actions might be, the Times of London quoted an unidentified EU official as saying the bloc was ready to impose trade sanctions and retaliatory tariffs.
Britain accused the EU of taking an unnecessarily “purist approach” to the new rules.
“There’s no case whatsoever for preventing chilled meats from being sold in Northern Ireland,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain. “We are working very hard to try and resolve these issues consensually,”
“Time is starting to run out and solutions are urgently needed,” he added.