Running to Biden? EU and Ireland to beg Washington to punish UK over Brexit trade row

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European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic and Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney will brief the Friends of Ireland caucus of US Congressmen on Capitol Hill. They are expected to ask for support in the dispute over the UK’s unilateral move to extend grace periods on EU red tape on Northern Ireland. Downing Street has announced it will scrap customs checks on supermarket shipments between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

But Eurocrats argue this is a breach of the terms of the Brexit deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol to prevent a hard border.

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

Mr Sefcovic and Mr Coveney will discuss the issue with the influential group of Congress members, which played a key role in securing US support for the peace process.

Their intervention will be seen as a move to convince Washington to crack down on the UK in upcoming trade talks unless Downing Street drops its plans for Northern Ireland.

The UK is seen as keen to secure a free-trade agreement with the US to bolster its post-Brexit ambitions for Global Britain.

President Joe Biden said last September that any US-UK pact relied on continued respect for the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Biden has celebrated his Irish roots and took time out of his campaign for the White House to challenge Britain’s plans to override elements of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Irish premier Micheal Martin is expected to also raise the issue when he speaks with the US President next week.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is planning to sue Britain unless it withdrawals the plans to scrap the trade checks on Northern Ireland.

No10 argues the temporary measures are designed to give people and businesses extra time to adapt to life under the Brexit divorce deal’s protocol to avoid a hard border.

Whitehall officials fear that the EU demands to maintain its burdensome bureaucracy are risking a flare-up in violence after Unionists were left outraged by the introduction of trade controls in the Irish Sea.

Brussels is now planning a “twin-track” retaliation that could ultimately result in the Government being hauled before the European Court of Justice.

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Mr Sefcovic told diplomats that the Commission will trigger formal legal proceedings against Britain for failing to properly implement the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The EU’s Brexit chief believes he has identified legal grounds in the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure European judges have jurisdiction over the row.

As a result, Britain could be slapped with huge multi-million pound fines or trade sanctions if it refuses to follow the court’s ruling.

Mr Sefcovic will also send a “political” warning to Downing Street, insisting the Government’s action are in breach of good faith provisions.

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An EU source told “They’re already substantively breaching the Protocol by not properly implementing it in the first place. Good faith is an angle too.”

Brussels will argue that Britain has not yet completed work on new permanent border control posts and handed the bloc’s customs officials access to trade databases.

The legal action is likely to add more fuel to the fire in the already fractious post-Brexit relationship between the UK and EU.

Downing Street is set to defend itself for unilateral extending the grace periods from EU red tape for a further six months.

Government sources say it is the “absolute minimum” to protect vital supermarket supply chains in Northern Ireland and prevent food shortages.

An insider said: “At the moment unfortunately we are not seeing from the EU the pragmatism required to make the Protocol work for the citizens of Northern Ireland.

“Their approach is having real world, practical consequences for the everyday lives of people and their communities – contrary to the guarantee the Protocol itself provides.

“That’s why we are extending these temporary operational steps, which simply reflect the reality that more time is needed for businesses to adapt to and implement new requirements.”

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