Brussels ‘ready for worst-case scenario’ as tensions brew over Brexit protocol

Brexit: Lord Frost speaks of 'disappointment' with EU

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Since it completed its departure from the EU last year, Britain’s relations with the 27-member bloc have soured, with both sides accusing the other of acting in bad faith over what is called the Northern Ireland protocol. The protocol introduced checks on some goods moving from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland, a British province that has a land border with EU member Ireland. The EU’s ambassador to the UK said that levels of trust between the two powers was low ahead of Brexit talks on the Northern Ireland protocol this week, but added that he was confident it would improve.

Speaking to Times Radio, ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida said: “I don’t want to anticipate worst-case scenarios but we are ready for those.

“I firmly believe and I hope that we will not use the measures that are available if our partners do not accept their previous commitments.”

The checks have caused a perception among pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland that the Brexit deal divides them from the rest of the United Kingdom, a shift they say could sink a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of violence.

Mr Almeida added: “We ultimately need to re-establish a minimum level of trust that allows us to find solutions.

“I remain confident that we can get there.”

The envoy said no viable alternative to the Northern Ireland protocol, a measure designed to prevent a “hard” border between the EU and Britain on the island of Ireland, had been proposed.

He called on Britain to honour its agreements.

David Frost, Britain’s minister in charge of EU ties, said EU negotiators needed to adopt a “new playbook” for talks.

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In comments published by the Financial Times, Lord Frost said the European Union needed to show more pragmatism and less “legal purism”.

“We continue to work for negotiated solutions which achieve this. But time is starting to run out. We need to see progress soon.

“I hope we can this week,” Frost said.

Britain had made huge compromises to make the agreement work, he added.

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Preserving the delicate peace without allowing the United Kingdom a back door into the EU’s single market via the Irish border was one of the most difficult issues of nearly four years of talks on the terms of Britain’s exit from the bloc.

Some politicians fear the dispute could spill over into violent protests in Northern Ireland.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson unilaterally extended a grace period on certain checks to minimise supply disruption.

Brussels said the move breached the Brexit divorce deal.

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