Ireland hints at huge EU climbdown in Brexit row – but issues UK ultimatum on trade rules

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said the bloc may revisit the rules if the UK agrees to adopt the same level of food standards. Lorry drivers have had their sandwiches confiscated at the EU’s borders, fishermen have been unable to export UK shellfish and plants with British soil on them have been blocked from crossing into the bloc with Brussels red tape to blame. These EU bans have also caused significant trade disruptions between Northern Ireland and the British mainland as part of the post-Brexit plan to avoid a hard border.

To keep the Irish border open, the region remains part of the EU’s single market and some checks are now made on some products arriving from the rest of the UK.

But Mr Coveney hinted that agricultural goods could be allowed to flow more freely across the Irish Sea if Britain agrees to follow the bloc’s animal and plant safety rules.

He said an “equivalence” arrangement could be drawn up to allow exports of British seed potatoes, seeds and potted plants, as well as pets to cross the borders more easily.

“In some of those cases the UK Government has the capacity to facilitate that change if they want to agree to a different approach when it comes to equivalence of standards,” Mr Coveney said.

“So, if we had equivalence in terms of veterinary standards and SPS rules, that would create fewer barriers to free flowing trade.”

The UK and Brussels agreed to a series of grace periods to cut EU red tape on goods crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

But these measures, which cover chilled meats – such as burgers and sausages – and seed potatoes are set to expire on April 1.

Downing Street has called for them to be extended for up to two years amid growing frustrations from Unionists over customs checks in the Irish Sea.

Mr Coveney said the EU and Dublin was willing to be “generous” in easing the burden of the Northern Ireland Protocol on businesses.

But he insisted the UK must follow through on its commitments to the EU, signed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement, to implement the border plan in full.

Brussels is furious that its officials still haven’t been granted full access to customs data on goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

“When the EU made compromises in a pragmatic way to try to get agreement on implementation they expected that the British Government would follow through on those commitments,” Mr Coveney said.

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DUP leader Arlene Foster has claimed the Brexit deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol to prevent a hard border also undermines the Good Friday peace process.

Amid the growing tensions, the European Commission has said it will be “constructive” to find a solution that reassure the border plan’s critics.

A spokesman said: “We are fully committed to the Good Friday Belfast Agreement and to the proper implementation of the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland – protecting the gains of the peace process, protecting and maintaining stability and avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.”

EU and UK officials are due to meet this week to discuss potential solutions for ending the tensions in the region.

Customs officials were forced to withdraw from Northern Ireland ports after threats to their safety.

The Commission spokesman said: “We will bring with us a constructive attitude and that of a solutions-driven attitude.”

Ms Foster has claimed the Northern Ireland Protocol is in breach of the peace process and the Act of Union.

She said: “Fundamental to the Act of Union is unfettered trade throughout the UK.

“At the cost of the Belfast Agreement was the principle of consent yet the Northern Ireland Protocol has driven a coach and horses through both the Act of Union and the Belfast Agreement.”

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