The other weapons at the EU’s disposals are arbitration proceedings or a trade war. But Tony Connolly, RTE’s Europe Editor, has said eurocrats are also keen to avoid being dragged in to a “stupid sausage war”, in reference to the wrangle over the transport of chilled meat products.
Mr Connolly tweeted: “The EU will take a measured response to any further unilateral moves by the UK to delay implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, with senior officials signalling a staggered approach to legal action and arbitration, @rtenews understands.
“This would be to avoid falling into what diplomats fear would be the “trap” of escalating tensions around the Protocol as the loyalist marching season in Northern Ireland approaches its peak.”
Mr Connolly said the UK was widely expected to be on the verge of unilaterally extending a grace period, agreed with the EU in December, delaying the ban on chilled meats entering Northern Ireland from GB, and which is due to expire on July 1.
However, it’s thought the EU’s Brexit point man Maros Sefcovic has told member states the EU should avoid immediately responding with hard-hitting legal action, or eve retaliating by introducing tariffs or other measures through the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
Mr Connolly added: “Despite that, member states – especially France and Germany – have urged the European Commission to develop a range of “precise” legal responses to further unilateral moves by London.
“It’s understood Mr Sefcovic has told member states the Commission is considering three measures, which could be staggered over time.”
The first of these involves legal action.
The bloc has already begun infringement proceedings against the UK for unilaterally extending grace periods on food safety and animal health measures without consulting the European Commission, and in March sent a ‘letter of formal notice’, the first step in legal action under the Withdrawal Agreement.
Brussels has largely rejected the UK’s response to the letter, and the next step – a “reasoned opinion – could be issued shortly, with the potential for the case to come before the European Court of Justice as early as September.
Mr Connolly added: “The second approach would be to initiate arbitration proceedings through the Withdrawal Agreement, and a third would be to trigger retaliatory measures through the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), which covers the future relationship between the EU and UK.
“It’s understood the EU regards this third option as the most serious. Diplomats suggest the EU will not immediately trigger that option if the UK unilaterally extends the grace period for chilled meats, including sausages, on July 1.
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“Instead, the Commission is recommending that such action would be as a result of cumulative unilateral action by the UK, and a failure to implement the Protocol, over time.”
Mr Connolly quoted one source as saying: “The British press seem to be developing the narrative that if they unilaterally extend the grace period at the end of the month then the EU will automatically react.”
“The EU doesn’t want to get sucked into the stupid sausage war type narrative, where we would be seen to be coming heavy because of things like chilled meat, sausages etc.”
Mr Connolly also said the EU is poised to accelerate a solution to the medicines issue, which has triggered headlines in recent weeks.
He explained: “Officials are thought to be exploring options whereby any medicines produced in GB can be licensed to be sold in Northern Ireland, despite the fact that the Protocol originally envisaged the European Medicines Agency being primarily responsible for authorising drugs .and “authorised holders” of licences needing to be located in Northern Ireland or in an EU member state..
“The Commission has also told member states that the Protocol does not alter the fact that the UK is primarily responsible for public health in, and the supply of medicines to, Northern Ireland.
“Despite the deepening tension between both sides, EU sources say they hope that the technical talks between the EU and UK on the Protocol could deliver a breakthrough at some point.”
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7.35am update: Why are EU chiefs there?! John Redwood blows top at Brussels’ ‘MAJORITY’ at G7
Brexit backing Tory MP John Redwood has expressed anger at the EU’s level of representation at the G7 summit in Cornwall.
Both the European Commission and European Council presidents are attending, in addition to the seven national leaders. Mr Redwood argued this means the EU effectively has five representatives at the summit.
He tweeted: “The EU at the G7 can be represented by Germany, France and Italy, three voices.
“So why does the EU also get to send two EU Presidents as well to give them a majority?”