Temporary and technical extensions to post-Brexit trade grace periods in Northern Ireland are sensible, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.
The EU has threatened legal action and suggested the UK may be breaking international law after the British Government unilaterally extended until the autumn the light-touch regulatory periods due to end this month.
They cover areas like supermarket supplies and parcel deliveries to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Mr Johnson said: “Insofar as there have been teething problems – and there is no question that there have been – we’re fixing those now with some temporary, technical things that we’re doing to smooth the flow which, I think, are very, very sensible.
“I’m sure that it can all be ironed out and sorted out insofar as the EU objects to that with goodwill and with imagination, and that’s what we intend to bring.”
The grace period affects supermarkets and other retailers, which face having to provide export health certificates for all shipments of animal products.
Northern Ireland has remained part of the EU’s single market for goods, meaning products arriving from Great Britain face EU import regulations.
The first of the grace periods had been due to expire at the end of this month but the UK has pledged to extend them until October in a move widely welcomed by businesses in Belfast.
The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference: “I think it is a great deal because it enables us not just to have free trade with the EU, but also to do what we wanted to do, which is to do things differently where we think that might be a good idea.
“In the last few months you’ve seen the examples of that – whether it is in the vaccination rollout programme or in the free trade agreements that we have been able to strike or the free ports that we announced in the Budget – we’re doing other forms of regulation differently.
“I think that it is great to get those two things working together – that’s the free trade agreement plus the ability to do things differently and in our own way.”
The protocol was debated by MLAs at Stormont on Monday.
Sinn Fein’s Declan McAleer, who chairs the Assembly’s agriculture committee, acknowledged there were initial problems with the protocol but the issues were improving.
“I do accept that there was implementation issues at the outset in January, but the message certainly being given to the committee is that things are improving, the Trader Support Service is improving, businesses are getting used to the common health entry documents, but there are still some issues to deal with,” he said.
Mr McAleer said the move by the UK Government to unilaterally amend the terms of the protocol’s implementation was an example of “bad faith”.
“That is bad business, it’s contravention of an international agreement, and I believe that it will have a bad impact on our businesses here and on our international reputation as a region to do business with,” he said.