The European Parliament has postponed setting a date for the vote to approve the Brexit trade deal with the UK after claims that Prime Minister Boris Johnson,"violated" the terms of the agreement.
The chamber’s political groups agreed on Thursday to wait, after the latest row with Downing Street, with some senior MEPs warning that the Christmas Eve deal will not be passed at all if the UK goes ahead with its plans over Northern Ireland.
The UK unilaterally announced a grace period on border checks on agri-food products entering Northern Ireland, a move which has angered Brussels.
The EU argues that the UK's move constitutes a "violation" of the Northern Ireland Protocol, a term of the Brexit agreement designed to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland.
During discussions with commission officials on Monday night the claim that international law had been broken was denied by David Frost, who has recently been given a seat in cabinet and responsibility for EU relations.
German MEP Bernd Lange, who sits on the UK Coordination Group in charge of relations with the UK told Euronews on Thursday: "We as a European Parliament have a long history of mistrust towards the UK government really sticking to their obligations. This, of course, leads to the situation that we are not really sure if we can under this condition ratify the trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union and therefore we postponed the decision to set a date for the ratification.”
David McAllister, the German MEP who acts as the parliament’s lead spokesman on UK relations, held emergency talks on Thursday with the European commission’s vice president, Maroš Šefčovič. He later tweeted about the UK’s decision, saying it was “unnecessary and untimely”.
He wrote: “The EU side has offered to discuss the flexibilities allowed by the protocol framework, but the UK government has again chosen the slippery slope of acting outside the framework of the protocol.
Lord Frost, was personally criticised on Thursday by the Irish government for making a “very, very, dangerous” unilateral decision.
Northern Ireland's first minister Arlene Foster, whose party the DUP has launched legal action against the protocol, insisted on Thursday the decision to delay border controls was about helping local businesses rather than breaching international law.
"I believe in the rule of law, and therefore we will pursue every legal and political means to try and get through that this is not working for Northern Ireland and is causing real damage," she said.
The British government formally published its plans on Thursday to continue to free businesses and individuals from filling out customs declaration forms for imported items worth less than £135, until October. Supermarkets will also not be required to fill out health certificates for agri-foods.
This week, loyalist paramilitary groups told the British and Irish governments they were withdrawing support for the Good Friday agreement in protest at Northern Ireland’s Irish Sea trade border with the rest of the UK.
The warning came hours after the British government was accused of breaking international law for a second time by the European commission after ministers said the UK would unilaterally act to give Northern Ireland businesses time to adapt to post-Brexit rules.