Brexit: Steve Barclay says government will ‘defend the UK’
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European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, the bloc’s latest Brexit chief, said the move had been a “very negative surprise”. The Slovak diplomat claimed it had derailed detailed work by EU and UK officials to find solutions to problems faced by companies trading across the Irish Sea. Top eurocrats are already drawing up plans for starting “legal proceedings” against Britain, he revealed in a newspaper interview.
“We are currently preparing it and it would be really something coming to our table very soon,” Mr Sefcovic told the FT.
“The most precise term I can give you is really very soon.”
He didn’t reveal the exact legal route the Commission is taking to challenge Britain.
But eurocrats are pondering whether they should slap trade tariffs on the UK and have also threatened to restrict the City of London’s access to EU markets in retaliation.
The row could result in Boris Johnson being hauled before EU judges at the European Court of Justice.
No10 says it will suspend customs controls on supermarket goods from Britain to Northern Ireland for another six months.
Current trade grace periods expire on March 31.
Downing Street decided to go it alone with fears Eurocrats are stalling to get their own way. It also gives stores time to adjust.
Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney yesterday said the move showed the PM “cannot be trusted”.
He added: “The EU is now looking at legal options and legal actions, which means a much more formalised and rigid negotiation process as opposed to a process of partnership where you try to solve the problems together.”
But British officials say their plan is not in breach of the divorce treaty and is simply to stop food shortages in Northern Ireland.
They argue that Eurocrats risk inflaming tensions in the region by insisting on red tape when there is no risk British goods will enter EU’s single market.
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If Brexit minister Lord Frost refuses to drop the plans, EU officials say they will sue Britain.
Their response may include hauling Britain in front of the European Court of Justice or triggering the dispute mechanism in the trade deal.
Irish Eurocrat Mairead McGuinness said the EU will “send a message” by targeting the City.
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The EU’s financial services boss insisted Downing Street’s move could derail talks over regulatory cooperation to pave the way for more access for British bankers.
Angry EU Parliament chiefs have threatened to veto the Brexit trade deal, which still has not been fully approved by the bloc.
German MEP Bernd Lange, chairman of its trade committee, said: “This is a very aggressive act. The British Government breaks international law again.”
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