Brexit war erupts as EU plays hardball

Relationships between the European Union and the UK have continued to deteriorate as the single market launched four new infringement claims in the courts and the Port of Dover was left at a standstill amid claims the French border authorities had deliberately failed to turn up on what is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year.

The European Commission announced on Friday it had launched four new infringement procedures against the United Kingdom for “not complying with significant parts of the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland”. It has warned that it will not negotiate adding that if the UK did not back down it would consider launching a trade war.

“In a spirit of constructive cooperation, the Commission refrained from launching certain infringement procedures for over a year to create the space to look for joint solutions with the UK,” it stated. “However, the UK’s unwillingness to engage in meaningful discussion since last February and the continued passage of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill through the UK Parliament go directly against this spirit.”

The EU said the aim of these infringement procedures is to secure compliance with the Protocol in a number of key areas.

“This compliance is essential for Northern Ireland to continue to benefit from its privileged access to the European Single Market, and is necessary to protect the health, security and safety of EU citizens as well as the integrity of the Single Market.”

It has charged the UK with:

Failing to comply with the applicable customs requirements, supervision requirements and risk controls on the movement of goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.

Failing to notify the transposition of EU legislation laying down general EU rules on excise duties, which will become applicable from 13 February 2023

Failing to notify the transposition of EU rules on excise duties on alcohol and alcoholic beverages, which facilitate access for small and artisan producers to lower excise duty rates, among other provisions.

Failing to implement EU rules on Value Added Tax (VAT) for e-commerce, namely the Import One-Stop Shop (IOSS).

The EU said the UK’s actions had open the door to drug traffickers and smugglers to operate across the borders.

“This significantly increases the risk of smuggling via Northern Ireland. For example, it opens the possibility for traders to circumvent EU rules on prohibitions and restrictions on the export of goods to third countries or provides possibilities for carousel trafficking of goods being declared for export in the EU and actually not exiting the customs territory via Northern Ireland.”

It added: “The UK has invested little time in explaining the Protocol to people and businesses in Northern Ireland and did not prepare them adequately for the changes Brexit caused.

The UK has yet to deliver on all its fundamental obligations under the Protocol.”

It said it was not prepared to enter into any renegotiation of the protocol.

“Renegotiating the Protocol – agreed and ratified by both the EU and the UK – would lead to significant uncertainty for people and businesses in Northern Ireland,” it stated. “The Protocol represents the one and only solution the EU and the UK could jointly find to protect the hard-earned gains of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

“Moreover, the Protocol embodies trust. It marks the first time that the EU has entrusted the control of its economic border to an outside partner. Thanks to this, we prevented a hard border on the island of Ireland and ensured that Northern Ireland maintains its access to the EU’s Single Market for goods.

“No workable alternative solution has been found to this delicate, long-negotiated balance. For these reasons, the European Union cannot and will not renegotiate the Protocol and is united in this position.”

It came as Britain’s busiest seaport Dover was gridlocked after the port’s CEO claims French border staff failed to arrive to conduct the necessary immigration checks for passengers and goods seeking to leave the port.

UK police were forced to close the port entrance and filter traffic as delays of up to 12 hours were reported.

Port of Dover CEO, Doug Bannister, declared the situation a critical incident, telling the BBC the port had been “badly let down” by French border controls that were “insufficiently resourced” and working slower than normal, causing traffic to queue for miles.

In a statement the port authorities said: “The Port is working to do all it can with ferry operators and local partners to assist with clearing the queues caused by inadequate French border capacity.  Resource at the French border has increased this morning and traffic is slowly beginning to move, but it will take some time to clear the backlog.

“Passengers need to come prepared with water, food and supplies and to check with their chosen ferry operator for the latest information and advice.  Passengers are also asked to avoid trying back routes to reach the port as that makes the situation worse, particularly for local residents.

“Continual high holiday traffic volumes are fully expected, and our freight customers also remain significantly delayed, so we urge French colleagues to adequately resource the border, not just to relieve the current situation, but for the rest of the weekend and indeed the rest of the summer to keep our community clear, to get families on their holidays and to keep essential trade moving.

“The Port urges the UK government to continue working with French counterparts in order to ensure this is the case.”