UK sees Northern Ireland trade problematic, trust with EU damaged
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A view of the border crossing between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland near Dundalk, Ireland, October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Lorraine O'Sullivan
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By William James and Guy Faulconbridge
LONDON (Reuters) - British minister Michael Gove said there were serious problems with post-Brexit arrangements for trade with Northern Ireland and called for more time to work out better implementation.
Gove also criticised the European Union for damaging trust by trying last week to impose controls on vaccine exports to the British province, saying it acted unilaterally and outside proper procedures.
Northern Ireland shares Britain's only land border in the EU and has become a focus for post-Brexit trade difficulties, with goods flowing in from Britain subject to expensive and time-consuming extra checks.
Gove's comments showed ministers are now taking delays getting goods from Britain to Northern Ireland more seriously, after the government initially called them teething problems.
"They are significant issues which bear on the lives of people in Northern Ireland, which do need to be resolved," Gove told parliament.
He called for the extension of grace periods which temporarily waive some border rules and said the EU needed to work with Britain fast and determinedly to resolve issues in the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol.
"We do need to make sure that supermarkets and other traders can continue, as they are at the moment, to be able to supply consumers with the goods that they need," said Gove, who negotiated the deal on Northern Ireland with the EU.
Supermarkets selling into the territory have three months' grace to adapt systems. But some Northern Irish outlets have had shortages of fresh goods usually imported from Britain, and fear the situation could worsen.
The lobby group for Britain's retail sector welcomed the call for an extension of the grace period.
On the vaccine row, Gove said the EU had acted outside the rules in the protocol, part of the treaty governing Britain's exit from the bloc.
The EU escalated its fight to secure vaccines on Friday by saying it would trigger clauses in the protocol to stop vaccines moving across the open Irish border.
The European Commission swiftly reversed its position after an outcry in London, Dublin and Belfast, but Gove said harm had still been done. "Trust has been eroded, damage has been done and urgent action is therefore needed," he said.
"This isn't some sort of gaggle of eurosceptics, you know, rehearsing traditional lines, it's just recognition that the Commission mucked up."
(Writing by William James; Editing by Estelle Shirbon, Bernadette Baum and Andrew Cawthorne)
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