UPDATED: EU rejects most UK demands on Northern Ireland trade, Ireland calls for calm

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Ireland on Thursday called on the European Union and Britain to dial down the rhetoric in a blame game over post-Brexit trade frictions after Brussels rejected most of London’s demands for easier trade with Northern Ireland.

Britain has sought to extract concessions from the EU since the European Commission sought briefly last month to prevent coronavirus vaccines from moving across the open border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

The Commission cited a shortfall of vaccines promised for the EU, but reversed its move after an uproar, with Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster calling it an “incredible act of hostility.”

The European Union rejected on Wednesday most of Britain’s demands for easier trade with Northern Ireland but said it was examining more flexibility on steel.

In a letter to British Cabinet Minister Michael Gove, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said the EU executive arm was “examining possible amendments” to make steel imports into Northern Ireland from Britain count against the tariffs quota given by the EU to Britain.

But the EU rejected calls for more time, until Jan 1, 2023, for British supermarkets and their suppliers to adjust to the new customs border on the Irish Sea for goods shipped to the province, including chilled meat, parcels and medicines.

The customs border between Britain and Northern Ireland was created as part of the deal on Britain’s exit from the European Union so as to prevent the creation of a hard border between the province and the rest of the island of Ireland.

“As regards additional flexibilities concerning the application of Union law applicable in Northern Ireland with regard to meat products, export health certificates and parcel and express services I would like to recall that blanket derogations … cannot be agreed beyond what the Protocol foresees already,” Sefcovic wrote.

Sefcovic is due to meet Gove on Thursday in London for further talks.

Gove also asked on Feb. 3 for the removal of barriers on pet travel between Britain and Northern Ireland and movement of seed potatoes and other plants and plant products, but the EU appeared to reject that as well.

“As regards the issue of pet travel between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of movements of seed potatoes and other plants and plant products, any flexibility would entail the United Kingdom committing to align with the relevant EU rules,” Sefcovic said.

Britain and the European Union can resolve some of the issues disrupting trade within the next few weeks and months, senior minister Michael Gove said on Thursday.

“There are some specific issues that relate to our departure from the European Union that can be resolved in the next few weeks and months,” he told parliament.

He also announced a fund to help small and medium-sized businesses with issues arising from Britain’s EU exit.

“I can announce today the government is launching a 20 million pound SME Brexit support fund to help small businesses adjust to new customs rules of origin and VAT rules when trading with the EU,” he said.

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