Von der Leyen bottles it! EU stops legal action against UK – Brexit talks hit ‘standstill’

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The European Commission announced that it would freeze the infringement process against the UK over its move to defy EU red tape in the region. Eurocrats had accused Downing Street of breaching international law by temporarily suspending EU-ordered checks between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland. Brussels’ decision to pause the legal action comes amid rising tensions over the Brexit deal’s protocol to avoid a hard border.

In a statement the Commission said the standstill would “provide the necessary space on these issues and find durable solutions to the implementation of the protocol”.

It comes after the Government last week demanded the renegotiation of the post-Brexit border fix because of instabilities in the region.

But EU officials have rejected reopening the protocol.

The Commission said: “While the EU will not renegotiate the Protocol, we stand ready to address all the issues arising in the practical implementation of the Protocol in a spirit of good faith and cooperation.

“It is essential that we continue constructive discussions in the weeks ahead.

“With regards to the request for a standstill, the Commission will carefully assess the new proposals made by the UK, in accordance with the necessary consultation procedures, both internally, and with the European Parliament.

“In order to provide the necessary space to reflect on these issues and find durable solutions to the implementation of the Protocol, we have decided, at this stage, not to move to the next stage of the infringement procedure, started in March.”

Eurocrats have been told they risk food shortages and disorder with their hardline approach to the post-Brexit border checks.

Northern Ireland’s land border with the EU – its border with Ireland – meant that a special protocol was included in the UK’s withdrawal agreement.

To keep the frontier open, the province effectively remains part of the bloc’s single market; checks are made on some products arriving from the rest of the UK.

But Brexit minister Lord Frost has expressed concerns the measures are damaging the fabric of the UK.

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The peer has said the issues are so grave that they warrant triggering the protocol’s Article 17 clause to override and suspend a number of the controls.

This has infuriated EU insiders who believe Downing Street is using the threat of ripping up the border fix as leverage over Brussels.

The UK’s proposals include removing customs checks on goods where a GB-registered business has declared Northern Ireland is the product’s final destination.

They also call for the scrapping of red tape on food intended for the region and for medicines to be removed from the scope of the protocol.

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Lord Frost also wants the European Court of Justice’s powers over the arrangements to be stripped out.

Diplomats and officials vented their frustrations over “mad” and “outrageous” plans from No 10 and claimed the proposals are “a non-starter”.

An EU diplomat claimed the EU had dropped the legal action in the hope of removing at least one excuse Lord Frost has to trigger the Article 17 measures.

They told the FT: “Anything could provide Frost the match he seeks to light the fire — including the infringement process.”

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