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UK and EU extend truce over Northern Ireland trade checks

The UK and the EU have agreed to extend a truce over the introduction of controversial post-Brexit trade checks in Northern Ireland.

It is the third time the so-called ‘grace period’ has been extended as the two sides make more time to try to find permanent solutions to border problems caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The second extension – effectively delaying the point at which more import checks and red tape will be introduced – was agreed in June but was due to expire at the end of this month. 

Cabinet Office Minister Lord Frost said this afternoon that the Government will ‘continue to operate the Protocol on the current basis’. 

It is unclear how long the extension will last, but Lord Frost said ‘reasonable notice’ will be given to businesses in the event the arrangements were to change.  

It came as Lord Trimble urged Joe Biden to drop his support for the protocol, warning the post-Brexit border rules ‘risk a return to sectarian strife’. 

The architect of the Good Friday Agreement accused the White House of ‘contributing to the damage being caused’ to the peace treaty by siding with the European Union on the issue. 

He said in a letter to the US President that the ‘political promises of the Belfast Agreement have been flippantly dismissed’ because of the protocol.      

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has urged the EU to renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol but Ursula von der Leyen has ruled out making major changes

Lord Trimble has urged Joe Biden to drop his support for the Northern Ireland Protocol, warning the post-Brexit border rules have caused 'political unrest and violence'

Lord Trimble has urged Joe Biden to drop his support for the Northern Ireland Protocol, warning the post-Brexit border rules have caused ‘political unrest and violence’

Lord Trimble said in a letter to the US President that the 'political promises of the Belfast Agreement have been flippantly dismissed' because of the protocol

Lord Trimble said in a letter to the US President that the ‘political promises of the Belfast Agreement have been flippantly dismissed’ because of the protocol

The protocol, agreed as part of the Brexit deal, requires checks on goods travelling from GB to Northern Ireland to be carried out at ports in order to avoid the return of a land border with the Republic. 

But it has caused disruption to trade and angered unionists who have demanded the rules be scrapped, arguing they create a barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. 

Boris Johnson has repeatedly called on Brussels to renegotiate the protocol but the bloc has ruled out making major changes.    

The ‘grace period’ delays the introduction of checks in a variety of areas but one of the most contentious is on the export of chilled meat from GB to Northern Ireland. 

EU rules would effectively ban those exports but the current ‘grace period’ allows shipments to continue and to provide more time to find a permanent fix.  

The two sides remain locked in talks but little progress is being made as they try to avoid what has been dubbed a ‘sausage war’.     

Announcing the extension, Lord Frost said in a written statement to Parliament: ‘The Government proposed to the EU on 23 July a “standstill” arrangement to maintain the operation of the Protocol on the current basis, and to pause current legal actions, to provide space for discussions on those proposals. The EU announced on 27 July that it was not, at that stage, moving to the next stage of the legal proceedings it started in March. 

‘There have since been initial technical talks between the UK and the EU. These will continue in order to determine whether a constructive process can be established for discussing and addressing the issues identified with the Protocol.

‘Following on from this, to provide space for potential further discussions, and to give certainty and stability to businesses while any such discussions proceed, the Government will continue to operate the Protocol on the current basis. 

‘This includes the grace periods and easements currently in force. Operational and other guidance will be updated to reflect this approach. We will ensure that reasonable notice is provided in the event that these arrangements were to change, to enable businesses and citizens to prepare.’

The extension of the truce came as Lord Trimble told Mr Biden, who has Irish ancestry, that the protocol had been ‘imposed’ on the people of Northern Ireland without their consent. 

He said: ‘The result has been political unrest and violence and threats of further violence on our streets because the political promises of the Belfast Agreement have been flippantly dismissed through the NIP.’ 

Michael Gove, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, today met with Irish Tanaiste Leo Varadkar to discuss the protocol

Michael Gove, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, today met with Irish Tanaiste Leo Varadkar to discuss the protocol 

The former first minister of Northern Ireland, who won the Nobel Prize for his efforts in securing peace in Northern Ireland, said the protocol ‘risks a return to sectarian strife’. 

In the letter, first reported by The Telegraph, Lord Trimble said: ‘I wish to express my concern about the way in which the Agreement is being undermined by the Northern Ireland Protocol, and in particular the role which your administration has played in contributing to the damage being caused to the Agreement through your support for the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

‘The Northern Ireland Protocol has not only subverted the main safeguards within the Belfast Agreement causing civil unrest and political uncertainty, it is also damaging the Northern Ireland economy.

‘At the heart of the Belfast Agreement is consent, meaning that there can be no change to the constitutional position of NI as part of the UK without the agreement of a majority of the people of the country. 

‘But the NIP, by giving the EU powers over the movement of goods into and out of the Province, has torpedoed the ‘consent’ principle and risks a return to sectarian strife.’

The peer said the protocol had ‘totally destroyed’ the consent principle ‘to the detriment of the unionist community’.   

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