UK wins Irish backing for delay to Brexit port checks as Simon Coveney says he is open to extension of grace period
- Foreign affairs minister is open to ‘modest’ extensions of the grace period
- The Northern Ireland Protocol has led to delays at port and threats to staff
- Michael Gove wants two years before certain goods are checked at the border
Britain’s calls for a delay before full post-Brexit trade rules are imposed on Northern Ireland’s ports were backed by Dublin last night.
Foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said he was open to the idea of ‘modest’ extensions of the grace period before checks are introduced on more goods crossing the Irish Sea.
His intervention will be seen as a boost to the Government ahead of crunch discussions in the coming days with the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has led to delays at ports as well as threats to staff carrying out inspections.
Britain’s calls for a delay before full post-Brexit trade rules are imposed on Northern Ireland’s ports have been backed by Dublin
Foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said he was open to the idea of ‘modest’ extensions of the grace period
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who will host meetings with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in London, is asking for another two years before supermarket stock, medicines and parcels are checked.
Mr Coveney said: ‘Certainly I would be open to advocating for modest extensions of grace periods when appropriate to try to, first of all, reassure people that we’re listening to them in Northern Ireland, because we are, and then, secondly, so that we can ensure that businesses can operate as best they can under the protocol.’
The protocol avoided creating a hard border with the Republic of Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market – but this means goods from the UK mainland must be checked when they arrive in Belfast or Larne.
Mr Coveney insisted the protocol was generally working, with the volume of goods arriving into Northern Ireland’s ports similar to this time last year.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove is asking for another two years before supermarket stock, medicines and parcels are checked
Will this be au revoir to au pairs?
Families could be forced to wave au revoir to their au pair because of post-Brexit immigration rules.
Au pairs have now been classed as ‘highly skilled workers’ by the Home Office under the new points-based immigration scheme.
It means they must earn a minimum of £20,480 a year to qualify for a visa and work in the UK. Currently, most only get £100 a week ‘pocket money’ – as well as free bed and board, plus a contribution towards language classes during their year-long stint.
The industry fears the rule change will spell the end of the au pair system for the estimated 45,000 British families who rely on them for affordable childcare.
Jamie Shackell of the British Au Pair Agencies Association said: ‘If the Home Office doesn’t provide a simpler visa route for au pairs, then the programme will be lost. It is inappropriate to categorise au pairs as skilled workers as they have no formal childcare qualifications – they don’t belong in that bracket.’
However, some Brexiteers said it was only right that wealthy Britons paid fair wages for childcare.
Asked about the Democratic Unionist Party’s calls to scrap the protocol, he replied: ‘You cannot simply scrap an element of an international treaty five weeks into its implementation, because you don’t like elements of it.’
German MEP David McAllister, chairman of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told the BBC yesterday ‘practical solutions need to be developed and implemented, the sooner the better’ to the protocol.
Meanwhile the Government has disputed claims by hauliers that exports from Britain to the EU have plummeted since Brexit.
The Road Haulage Association said the volume of exports from UK ports fell 68 per cent in January compared with the same time last year.
It also said that up to 75 per cent of lorries arriving from the continent returned empty because of a lack of goods, delays and UK companies halting trade with Europe.
But the Cabinet Office said it ‘did not recognise the figures’ and insisted: ‘Disruption at the border has so far been minimal and freight movements are now close to normal levels.’
The Government has called for the extension until 2023 of a series of post-Brexit grace periods already in place for supermarket goods, chilled meats, parcels, medicines and pets crossing the Irish Sea.
Last night businesses warned of more looming red tape as the Government prepares to introduce additional controls on animal product imports from the EU in April.
Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, told the Guardian: ‘If we have as much trouble importing as we are having exporting it could be quite challenging.’