The U.K. agreed to allow the European Union to delay ratification of their post-Brexit trade deal by a month, injecting more uncertainty into the already fragile start to the two sides’ new relationship.
In a letter to the European Commission on Tuesday, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said that he expects that the EU “should be able to satisfy its internal requirements” by the end of April and the U.K. “would therefore not be asked to further extend the period of provisional application.”
The agreement on trade, security and fisheries was signed on Dec. 24, only days before Britain left the EU’s single market and customs union. The Commission applied the deal provisionally to give the European Parliament — which has the power to veto the entire accord — until the end of February to scrutinize it.
While the parliamentary vote would normally be seen as a formality, the EU’s growing concerns over what the U.K. might do to tackle problems surrounding trade with Northern Ireland mean lawmakers could threaten to withhold their approval.
“We are now 10 weeks into the reality of our new relationship with the United Kingdom,” Maros Sefcovic, the EU commissioner in charge of overseeing the Brexit deal implementation, told reporters in Brussels. “We have already seen some of the changes brought about by this and I think it is clear to everyone now that our partnership with the U.K. does not replicate or resemble its former membership of the European Union.”
Trade arrangements for Northern Ireland were one of the most contentious parts of the U.K.’s negotiations to leave the EU and have triggered new disputes since the Brexit process was finalized at the end of 2020.
With goods traveling into Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K. facing delays at the border, the government in London is seeking to postpone the implementation of full customs checks on medicines, parcels and food supplies to supermarkets until 2023. The EU has already signaled it will refuse this request.
Gove and the U.K.’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, are set to hold talks on Wednesday with Sefcovic to discuss Northern Ireland.