The UK is trying the EU’s patience after failing to come up with solutions during fraught talks to resolve the pair’s ongoing row over post-Brexit border checks in Northern Ireland, Brussels’ chief negotiator has said.
“Our patience is wearing very very thin,” European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic told a press conference on Wednesday, after talks aimed at diffusing the trade dispute ended without agreement.
“We are at a crossroads in our relationship with the UK. Trust, which should be at the heart of every partnership, needs to be restored,” he added.
The dispute centres on strict border checks in Northern Ireland on imports of chilled meat, including sausages, from Britain. Unlike the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland remains in the EU’s single market after Brexit.
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When the UK left the trading bloc, it agreed with the EU that so-called “grace periods” would come into effect to allow businesses time to adapt to the new rules.
The grace period for meat is due to expire at the end of June, meaning any such products from Britain that don’t undergo the required health export checks will technically be banned from entering Northern Ireland.
However, the UK has said it may ignore the rules if an agreement with the EU cannot be reached in time.
In March, the UK unilaterally extended a grace period for supermarket supply chains, a decision that sparked legal action from the EU over allegations the British government was in breach of international law over its move.
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Sefcovic has warned Boris Johnson’s government against making such a move again, and threatened to slap the UK with import tariffs and new legal action.
Earlier on Wednesday, Britain’s Brexit Minister David Frost, who is negotiating with Sefcovic, spoke of the “urgent need” for further discussions and said the UK was “concerned” at the lack of progress in many areas.
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