UK draws EU’s ire by extending waivers on Brexit food checks at N. Irish border without Brussels’ green light

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The UK government has announced that it will extend waivers on goods entering Northern Ireland as part of the Brexit deal without seeking EU approval, risking a new flashpoint in its already-fractious relationship with Brussels.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said on Wednesday that the government would give supermarkets more time to adapt to the stringent new rules, which require checks on live animals and products made from animals or plants at the Northern Irish border.

The Northern Ireland Protocol, which is part of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, has caused major disruption to the supply chains between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, including food shortages at some supermarkets.

In a written statement on Wednesday, Lewis said that the government would be “taking several temporary operational steps to avoid disruptive cliff edges.”

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He said that the three-month grace period for supermarkets and suppliers, which was due to expire at the end of March, will be extended until October 1. The announcement comes despite the EU not yet having responded to UK requests for an extension to the “Scheme for Temporary Agri-food Movements to Northern Ireland” until 2023.

There have already been strong reactions to the move from the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, which previously stressed that the ratified deal could not be changed.

Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said on Wednesday that the EU has “strong concerns” over the move, which he said “undermined” trust and “violated” the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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He added that the protocol is the only way to protect the Good Friday Agreement, ensuring the avoidance of a hard border between EU member state the Republic of Ireland and its neighbour, Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK but remains in the EU’s single market under the Brexit deal.

Sefcovic said he would speak about the issue on Wednesday night with David Frost, who negotiated the country’s withdrawal from the EU and now oversees Europe, Brexit and trade as a UK cabinet minister.

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney also expressed his disappointment at the UK’s move.

“A unilateral announcement is deeply unhelpful to building the relationship of trust and partnership that is central to the implementation of the Protocol,” he said in a statement.

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