Irish radio station RTI said on Tuesday that the British government suggested in a letter to the European Commission that it might use the term “force majeure” to waive the obligation to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol.

According to the RTE, the 20-page letter was sent to the European Commission on Friday evening and is the British government’s official response to the measures it initiated on 15 March. This came in the wake of London’s decision to unilaterally suspend some of the protocol’s requirements and extend the grace period without consulting the European Union.

The protocol is part of the Brexit agreement and provides for controls to be implemented on goods shipped from the United Kingdom (England, Scotland and Wales) to Northern Ireland to avoid controls on the island of Ireland. The result was de facto trade borders within the United Kingdom.

Initially, London and Brussels agreed on a three-month grace period, but in March the British government, in response to the fact that importers were not yet ready for the new rules, unilaterally delayed the deadline for introducing controls.

In a letter, the British government rejected the view that its unilateral actions violated the withdrawal agreement and listed a number of factors that, in its view, had forced it to take unilateral action on the protocol, including the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the protocol’s overall obligations. Difficulties in establishing customs offices were noted during the pandemic.

According to the RTE, the British government has also criticized the European Commission for taking legal action rather than “political dialogue” and for its flexible approach. He has also brought a number of accusations against the European Commission, including for failing to address the concerns of Northern Irish trade unionists about the protocol. He noted that the protocol contributed to the riots that broke out in Northern Ireland in April. The effects of non-parcel delivery have been highlighted as well as the impact of new requirements for those bringing pets – including guide dogs – from the UK to Northern Ireland.

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The letter also indicated that the European Union was the first to refer – on January 29 – to art. 16 of the protocol, which allows for suspension in specific cases (although the European Union withdraws from this after a few hours). He also wrote that the United Kingdom reserves the right to revitalize art. 16 minutes. “The UK has not taken steps under Article 16 of the Protocol, but it maintains a position regarding its potential application to the current evolving situation in Northern Ireland,” she wrote.

As the RTE reminds us, in March of last year the European Union suggested that the UK could extend the post-Brexit transition period due to an emerging pandemic impact, which would allow more time to prepare for the protocol. At the time, however, London ruled out such a possibility.

Bartjomiej Niedziński