EU will request extension to pass Brexit deal, says UK’s Frost

The UK is moving closer to suspending the Irish protocol in its Brexit agreement, Brexit minister David Frost has warned. [Stephanie Lecocq/EPA/EFE]

The UK expects the EU to ask for a two month extension to ratify the new post-Brexit trade deal, David Frost, London’s chief negotiator on the pact, told UK lawmakers on Tuesday (9 February).

Frost told the House of Lords EU committee that he had heard informally from the European Commission that the request would be made in the coming days.

He also pinned the blame on the EU for the teething problems in implementing the new trade accord and the row over the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, saying that the EU was “still adjusting somewhat…to the existence of a genuinely independent actor in their neighbourhood.”

After eleven months of often bitter negotiations and a series of delays, the trade agreement was ratified by the UK on 30 December but also has to be ratified by the European Parliament and the national parliaments of the EU-27.

Until then, it is considered to be ‘provisionally’ applied.

However, Frost said the expected delay was “a little disappointing”, and complained that relations with the EU had been “more than bumpy” and “problematic” since Britain formally left the Union.

On Monday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove had played down the prospect of an extension request from the EU as “extremely unlikely”.

For its part, the EU executive has not yet commented on whether it will request an extension.

The new trade pact came into force on 1 January, just a week after being finalised by Frost and EU counterpart Michel Barnier. But the row over the European Commission’s shortlived move to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to impose border controls on deliveries of the COVID-19 vaccine to the UK, combined with difficulties for businesses adjusting to the new customs regime, has left relations between London and Brussels distinctly strained.

Last week, the European Commission slapped an indefinite ban on UK fishermen from selling shellfish including mussels, oysters, clams, and scallops to the EU market, a move which Environment Secretary George Eustice described as “indefensible”.

The two sides have also been at loggerheads for weeks over the diplomatic status of the EU’s embassy staff in London.

Appearing alongside Frost at the hearing, Gove compared relations with Brussels to a flight.

“We all know that when an aeroplane takes off, that is the point where you sometime get an increased level of turbulence,” said Gove

“But eventually, you then reach a cruising altitude and the crew tell you to take your seatbelt off and enjoy a gin and tonic and some peanuts.”

“We are not at the gin and tonic and peanut stage yet, but I am confident we will be.”

Frost, who now acts as the prime minister’s representative on Brexit, added that he regarded “friendly cooperation between sovereign equals as our vision of the future”.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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