Britain said on Tuesday (9 February) its relations with the European Union after Brexit had been problematic due to differences over everything from vaccines and Northern Ireland as well as a row over the status of London’s top diplomat in Brussels, writes Guy Faulconbridge.
The United Kingdom left the EU in January last year, and fully exited the bloc’s economic orbit on 31 December 2020, though the European Commission sent shockwaves through the British province of Northern Ireland last month by threatening to restrict vaccine exports through Ireland’s land border.
“It has been more than bumpy to be honest in the last six weeks: I think it has been problematic and I hope we’ll get over this,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s EU adviser, David Frost (pictured), told a House of Lords committee.
“The EU is still adjusting somewhat to the existence of a genuinely independent actor in their neighborhood,” he said. “It is going to require a different spirit, probably, from the EU.”
Michael Gove, Johnson’s top minister on Brexit affairs, compared the relationship to turbulence on an aircraft after takeoff.
“You sometimes get that increased level of turbulence, but then eventually you reach a cruising altitude and the crew tell you to take your seatbelts off and enjoy a gin and tonic and some peanuts,” Gove said. “We’re not at the gin and tonic and peanuts stage yet, but I’m confident we will be.”
Britain has been seeking to etch out concessions from the EU since the Commission sought briefly to prevent vaccines from moving across the open border between EU-member Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Commission cited a shortfall of vaccines promised for the EU, but reversed its move after an uproar.
Gove, who is due to meet Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic on Thursday (11 February), said he would press the EU for practical changes on the ground to the implementation of the protocol governing Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade with Ireland.
“I want the protocol to work and I think there are ways in which we can do that by making practical changes on the ground,” Gove said.
The Commission informed London that the EU would need more time to ratify the 24 December 2020 deal on future British-EU relations and Frost scolded the bloc for what he said was its restrictions imposed on the activities of Britain’s envoy to Brussels.
“I’m even more sorry there’s a restriction on the activity of our ambassador and some of his team in Brussels,” Frost said. “I don’t think it is quite tit-for-tat because we are not putting any restriction on the operation of the EU mission in London.”
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