LONDON (Bloomberg) - The European Union warned it could impose tariffs and quotas on the UK as a bitter Brexit dispute over trade with Northern Ireland escalates.
“We are at a crossroads in our relationship,” European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic told reporters on Wednesday after talks with UK Brexit Minister David Frost aimed at defusing the crisis. “Patience is wearing very, very thin.”
At issue is Prime Minster Boris Johnson’s effort to backtrack from a legally binding agreement the UK spent years negotiating to secure its orderly withdrawal from the bloc: in a bid to avoid customs checks on the island of Ireland, he agreed to put a trade border in the Irish Sea.
The UK has said it underestimated the disruption its decision would wreak on businesses, and has sought to delay implementing parts of the accord -- something the EU has strongly resisted.
If the UK makes more unilateral changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, Sefcovic said the bloc could retaliate by suspending cooperation in certain sectors and that quotas and tariffs “could come into play.”
A senior UK official close to the negotiations said Britain doesn’t want a trade war, and that the EU should “think hard” before retaliating. The bloc’s “excessively purist” approach is “risky” given Northern Ireland’s history of violence, the official added.