EU prepares Northern Ireland Protocol concessions but says patience is 'wearing thin' with UK

Mon 7 Jun 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

The EU is preparing to make concessions in talks over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol but has admitted that its patience is “wearing thin” with the UK.

An EU official told the Guardian today (7 June) that Brussels is “investing considerable energy to find solutions” to the trade friction that has arisen in the region.

Confrontational

However, they also said that the UK’s “confrontational” approach is eroding trust.

“The EU has been patient, but the EU’s patience is wearing thin, and if this continues, we will have to consider all the tools and all the options that are available to us,” they said.

Frost bites

The admissions come after Lord Frost, the UK minister in charge of relations with the EU, called on Brussels to adopt a “new playbook” ahead of key talks this week.

Writing in the FT, Frost said the UK has put “huge resources” into making the Protocol work but had underestimated its effect on goods movement.

The resulting trade friction has led to less choice in Northern Irish stores, a cut in key medical supplies and some British companies ceasing trade in the region, he argued.

Frost has also accused the EU of a “legal puritism” that has made the situation on the ground “totally unsustainable”, reports the Telegraph.

Lack of trust

His comments have contributed to a heightening of tensions between London and Brussels.

The Guardian reports that Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney believes Frost is more focused on “media messaging” in the UK than problem solving.

French minister for EU affairs Clement Beaune defended the Protocol as “the solution to a problem that we [the EU] have not created”.

The EU’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Joao Vale de Almeida, has said levels of trust between the two powers are low, Reuters reports.

Breakthrough unlikely

According to RTE, the EU is increasingly pessimistic about the prospects of a breakthrough in the talks, with senior officials and diplomats warning that the UK appears determined to undermine the Protocol.

“We can’t let the UK destroy the Protocol with a thousand cuts,” said one EU diplomat.

RTE adds that the European Commission is expected to draw up state-of-play documents on key areas of contention between the UK and EU to reassure member states and people in Northern Ireland that it is trying to be flexible.

These areas include medicines, food safety and animal health, quotas and tariffs on steel imports, and VAT on second-hand cars.