Lord Frost to hold showdown EU talks as bloc threatens legal action: ‘This is second time’

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The European Commission said it would use the “legal means” available to it to counter British plans to ignore EU red tape on trade with the region. The Prime Minister defied eurocrats by pledging to scrap the rules on food shipments for another six months. He insisted the move would protect supermarket supply chains after months of disruption due to Brussels bureaucracy.

In response, the Commission accused Downing Street of moving to break international law and the terms of the Brexit deal.

The EU executive said: “This is the second time that the UK government is set to breach international law.

“The European Commission will respond to these developments in accordance with the legal means established by the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.”

Brexit minister Lord Frost and his EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic will hold showdown talks on the issue tonight.

No10 is concerned that EU bureaucracy could soon mean that supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland are empty.

There are currently a series grace periods in place exempting GB-NI trade from a number of checks.

The Government has called for the measures to be extended before they expire March 31.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson today said he would unilaterally scrap the red tape unless Brussels agrees to his demands.

He told MPs: “The position of Northern Ireland within the UK internal market is rock solid and guaranteed.

“We leave nothing off the table in order to ensure we get this right.”

A Government source insisted the move is “common trade practice” and doesn’t breach the Brexit deal.

The insider added: “This isn’t a hostile act. It’s just ensuring we can continue to provide for businesses.

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“We’d have liked to have reached an agreement on this but we haven’t because they’ve been kicking the can.”

But the move infuriated EU insiders, who said it could spark serious trouble for the post-Brexit relationship with Britain.

An EU diplomat fumed: “Under the agreement, a grace period can only be agreed by both sides. If it’s not, it’s not a grace period but a violation of the treaty.

“The fact is that the UK is failing to live up to what it agreed. And that will not continue to be solved by perpetuating grace periods.”

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Another Brussels source added: “British diplomacy is very predictable these days: Chose confrontation. Because why on earth would you want to respect an agreement you negotiated yourself?

“And why on earth would you want to settle difficult issues in an amicable way if you can also take a confrontational approach?”

Irish foriegn minister Simon Coveney said: “A unilateral announcement is deeply unhelpful to building the relationship of trust and partnership that is central to the implementation of the Protocol.

“I am well aware of the practical challenges Brexit has caused for business and citizens in Northern Ireland and have strongly supported efforts to ensure that issues are addressed within the existing framework of the Protocol.”

But Aodhan Connolly, Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, welcomed the move.

He said it will “allow us to continue to give Northern Ireland households the choice and affordability they need”.

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