1/ So, just two months into the new UK-EU relationship we've already reached the point where the two sides are arguing over what constitutes a breach of the NI Protocol. Britain says it's done nothing wrong. Brussels is fuming. What's up? thesun.co.uk/news/14224105/…
2/ The latest row is about the UK's announcement that it plans to unilaterally extend grace periods exempting goods going from GB to NI from EU checks. These were agreed in the NI Protocol and are due to expire at the end of the month. But the UK is prolonging them until Oct 1.
3/ Today's announcement concerned health certificates usually required when moving products of animal origin. But later this week the UK is also expected to bring forward similar measures covering parcels and shipments of goods containing soil like pot plants and seed potatoes.
4/ The UK can do this because it's the one carrying out checks on goods moving between GB and NI on behalf of the EU. Although the EU has a presence in NI and legal powers to oversee - and even order - controls on shipments, it's largely reliant on British customs officials.
5/ So why is the UK doing this, and why now? British officials say it's to protect supply chains for NI supermarkets. They've already asked the EU to agree an extension to these grace periods of up to two years, but talks in the new UK-EU Partnership Council have gone slowly.
6/ Supermarkets place orders a month before products arrive, so shops in NI need to know now what sort of restrictions they'll be facing, or empty shelves will ensue. This is particularly relevant to EU rules preventing imports of chilled meat products - known as the burger ban.
7/ The UK side is adamant that this move does not constitute a breach of the Protocol and describes it as a 'common trade practice' around the world. They say EU Member States themselves regularly use such measures to 'temporarily delay' the implementation of new trading rules.
8/ They're trying to downplay it's significance and say it's not meant to be seen as a 'hostile act'. And they insist the UK fully intends to introduce the relevant certification requirements in the Autumn once businesses in NI have had more time to adapt to Brexit changes.
9/ UK spox: 'We're committed to meeting our obligations in a pragmatic and proportionate way, but there have been challenges that are having a direct, and often disproportionate, impact on lives and livelihoods, including an unacceptable disruption to the flow of critical goods.'
9/ But the EU is furious. Though the Commission was forewarned of the UK's announcement, it's extremely unhappy about the unilateral nature of it which it sees as a 'violation of good faith'. And it's angry at yet another row about the UK potentially breaching the Brexit deal.
10/ The Commission said the move is 'the second time the UK is set to breach international law' and 'constitutes a clear departure from the constructive approach that has prevailed up until now'. And it comes just a day after Lord Frost took charge of UK-EU relations from Gove.
11/ EU sources suspect this is a rerun of the IMB saga, with the UK using the threat of unilateral action to try and negotiate a better settlement. There is already a growing weariness that this is how the relationship may pan out. They're learning to 'keep our expectations low'.
12/ But such rows erode trust and goodwill. One EU source says confrontation appears to be the new modus operandi of British diplomacy. And there's a risk it all becomes tit-for-tat, with the Commission already saying it may respond with legal action.
13/ All this comes before the new EU-UK trade deal has even been fully ratified by MEPs. While it still seems very unlikely the EU Parliament would vote down such an important treaty - with all the economic implications - it's a more unpredictable beast now than in years gone by.
14/ And beyond that - coming on top of early sparring over shellfish exports, vaccine supplies, musicians visas etc - this latest row appears to herald an inherently unstable and highly politicised EU-UK relationship for the near future. An inauspicious start to new beginnings.

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More from @nickgutteridge

18 Feb
1/ Trade Secretary Liz Truss will travel to Brussels tomorrow for talks with EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis. She will urge the EU to join forces with Britain and the US to tackle China's 'appalling behaviour' on the world stage. thesun.co.uk/news/14089864/…
2/ The talks will centre on matters of global trade, not the EU-UK trading relationship which is Lord Frost's domain. On the world stage Ms Truss wants to 'work hand-in-glove' with both Europe and the US, 'particularly on challenging China to play fair and clean up its act'.
3/ The meeting comes after the EU published a new trade policy today that warns the 'rapid rise of China affects a level playing field for European companies competing globally and at home' and says Europe needs 'the tools to defend ourselves when we face unfair trade practices'.
Read 4 tweets
11 Feb
Liam Smyth, from the British Chambers of Commerce, tells a Commons International Trade Committee about the Brexit deal: 'We're becoming increasingly aware of businesses that are simply turning away from international trade. We worry the pace of this is going to accelerate.'
Fergus McReynolds, from manufacturing industry representatives Make UK, says 'there's a lot we can do under the structures of the TCA to improve' the situation regarding barriers to trade. He adds: 'Our priority is making sure those supply chains thrive in the new relationship.'
Liam Smyth says firms are seeing a 'significant increase' in costs of moving freight and from extra paperwork. 'A factor is the availability of drivers prepared to come from the EU to drop a load in the UK, then take another load back. Empty trucks tell you they're not happy.'
Read 5 tweets
9 Feb
1/ Some EU frustration at UK griping over trade problems and suggestions Brussels needs to improve its attitude to make the relationship work better. There's a feeling of déjà vu, that the UK never really accepted the practical reality of the deal it wanted and still doesn't.
2/ In particular there's exasperation that the UK is moaning about the deal not including arrangements that it ruled out itself to keep its own red lines intact. It's seen as a pattern of behaviour - first there was visa-free travel for musicians, now it's shellfish.
3/ EU sources say the lack of provisions on shellfish exports was brought up numerous times in the talks as a concern. But the UK refused to engage, as it did on wider SPS issues, over fears of 'being drawn into the EU's regulatory sphere'.
Read 9 tweets
9 Feb
Gove compares the first weeks of UK-EU relations to turbulence after take off. 'Eventually you reach a cruising attitude and the crew tell you to take your seatbelts off and enjoy a G&T and some peanuts. We’re not at the G&T and peanuts stage yet but I’m confident we will be.'
Ex UK negotiator Lord Frost says the EU 'is still adjusting somewhat to the existence of a genuinely independent actor in its neighbourhood'. Adds: 'I hope we’ll get over this. It is going to require a different spirit probably from the EU, but I’m sure we are going to see that.'
* Altitude!
Read 6 tweets
8 Feb
Michael Gove says the figure given for exports from the UK to EU falling by 68% since the start of the year 'was erroneous and based on a partial survey'.
Cabinet office official Emma Churchill says 'trade flows have held up exceptionally well since the end of the Transition Period' despite a dip in early January. This month total outbound across all UK ports is 98% of the equivalent last year and inbound trade is at 99%, she says.
* This should have said GB ports, as the figures quoted relate to GB-EU trade. Jessica Glover, another Cabinet Office official, separately said GB-NI trade flows are 'back to normal and indeed are slightly higher now than they were in the equivalent week last year'.
Read 4 tweets
8 Feb
Michael Gove: 'It is still of concern that as things stand the EU reserve the right potentially to return to Article 16 in this area. I think there needs to be a realisation on all sides this isn't some arcane bit of diplomatic procedure, this is real consequences on the ground.'
Michael Gove says issues arising from the NI Protocol 'can be solved pragmatically'. E.g: 'It doesn't threaten the integrity of the EU Single Market to have bulbs ordered from a wholesaler in Scotland or England, which will then be planted in a garden in Belfast or Ballymena.'
Gove adds: 'If people put a particular type of integrationist theology ahead of the interests of the people of NI they aren't serving the cause of peace and progress. There are very good people in the EU's institutions and architecture who take incredibly seriously these issues.'
Read 6 tweets

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