© Reuters. Michael Gove arrives at Cabinet Office in London
By William James and Guy Faulconbridge
LONDON (Reuters) – British minister Michael Gove said there were serious problems with the post-Brexit arrangements for trade with Northern Ireland and called for more time to work out how to better implement the new rules.
Gove also criticised the European Union for damaging trust by trying last week to impose controls on the export of vaccines to the British province, saying the bloc had acted unilaterally and without following the proper procedures.
Northern Ireland shares Britain’s only land border in the EU and has become a focal point for the difficulties of post-Brexit trade, with goods flowing into the province from Britain subject to expensive and time-consuming extra checks.
Gove’s comments showed ministers are now taking delays getting goods from Britain to Northern Ireland more seriously, after the government initially said they were teething problems.
“In the short term, there are a number of issues which I would not describe as teething problems – they are significant issues which bear on the lives of people in Northern Ireland, which do need to be resolved,” Gove told parliament.
He called for the extension of grace periods which temporarily waive some of the border rules and said the EU needed to work with Britain “at speed and with determination” to resolve outsanding issue in the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol.
“We do need to make sure that grace periods are extended, we do need to make sure that supermarkets and other traders can continue, as they are at the moment, to be able to supply consumers with the goods that they need,” Gove said.
On the vaccine row, he said the EU had acted outside the rules set out in the protocol, part of the treaty governing Britain’s exit from the bloc.
The EU dramatically escalated its fight to secure vaccine supplies on Friday by saying it would trigger clauses in the protocol to prevent vaccines from moving across the open Irish border.
The European Commission swiftly reversed its position after an outcry in London, Dublin and Belfast, but Gove said trust had been damaged by the episode.
“Trust has been eroded, damage has been done and urgent action is therefore needed,” Gove said, stressing that he was not trying to whip up anti-EU feeling.
“This isn’t some sort of gaggle of eurosceptics, you know, rehearsing traditional lines, it’s just recognition that the Commission mucked up.”
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