The U.K. and European Union chief Brexit negotiators publicly sparred on Twitter over claims that food imports to Northern Ireland have been threatened in the talks, a sign of deepening tension in the negotiations.
Responding to a newspaper article by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in which he said the EU is threatening a “blockade” in the Irish Sea, Michel Barnier denied that the EU is refusing to recognize Britain as a country from which it would accept food imports.
“Sticking to facts is also essential,” Barnier tweeted. “To be listed, we need to know in full what a country’s rules are.”
Barnier’s comment then drew a seven-tweet reply from David Frost, who said the EU had indeed threatened to not allow food imports to enter Northern Ireland.
The argument about a trade border in the Irish Sea has become one of the most contentious issues in the talks. In the Brexit divorce treaty signed between the U.K. and EU, Johnson’s government committed to keeping Northern Ireland aligned with the EU’s customs rules, in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. That effectively meant introducing a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
But this week, Johnson said he plans to override the divorce treaty to protect “unfettered access” between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and preserve the “integrity” of the U.K., a move his government acknowledges would break international law. Johnson said part of the justification for the move was the threat the EU had made to prevent food crossing into Northern Ireland.
Responding to Barnier, Frost said the U.K.’s rules for food standards will be the same as those of the EU on Jan. 1, 2021 — when the Brexit transition period ends — so there wouldn’t be a reason for the EU blocking its goods. Frost also said the EU allows imports from other countries without them having to make any future commitments about their standards.
“I hope the EU will yet think better of this,” Frost tweeted. “It obviously makes it no easier to negotiate a good free trade agreement and the solid future relationship which we all want.”