President Biden urges UK and EU to work together amid legal dispute over NI Protocol grace periods

Tue 16 Mar 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

irish border

US president Joe Biden has urged the UK and EU to work together to preserve the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), following yesterday’s (15 March) news that Brussels has launched legal action against the UK for unilaterally extending grace periods in Northern Ireland.

“We continue to encourage both the EU and the UK government to prioritise pragmatic solutions to safeguard and advance the hard-won peace in Northern Ireland,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told the Guardian.

IOE&IT director general Marco Forgione said the Institute supported President Biden's call for a pragmatic approach to protecting the GFA.

"The current situation and preparedness of traders means all sides have to be flexible and adapt to reality," Forgione said. "It is essential that goods including food and vital pharmaceuticals continue to flow between GB and Northern Ireland.”

Be pragmatic

Biden’s intervention came as Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Micheál Martin warned that unilateral action by the UK to suspend aspects of the 2019 Withdrawal Agreement corroded trust, exacerbating uncertainty and instability.

Addressing an online audience for the Washington-based Brookings Institution, as part of his virtual programme of US events in the run up to St Patrick’s Day, Martin said that any “teething problems” should be worked on via the Joint Committee and Specialised Committees.

“Unilateral action to disapply or not to implement aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol does nothing but corrode trust, the only basis on which sustainable long-term solutions can be found. It exacerbates uncertainty and instability; two things Northern Ireland can well do without,” RTE cites him as saying.

Legal action

As reported in the IOE&IT Daily Update, the EU yesterday launched legal action against the UK for unilaterally deciding to extend grace periods for the introduction of new customs procedures.

The EU views this as a breach of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which the two sides agreed as part of the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement from the EU. The UK could face the European Court of Justice and a fine, as well as trade sanctions, because of the proceedings. 


Britain insists its actions do not breach either its commitments to the EU or international law, the FT reports. UK ministers hope the dispute can be settled before it reaches court.

The EU has urged the UK to use the Joint Committee to iron out “teething problems” in the post-Brexit deal.