Simon Coveney, who is also Ireland’s foreign secretary, insisted the bloc would keep a close eye on the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol as talks on the future free-trade agreement run in “parallel”. He told reporters in Brussels the EU will continue to offer “very strong support” for Dublin in the next phase of negotiations. “We all know what is in that protocol and there is a lot of work to ensure that is in place in plenty of time,” he said.
“Those structures need to be put in place in parallel with progressing the negotiations and discussions on the future relationship and future trade deal. From an Irish perspective that is really important for obvious reasons.”
The warning comes amid fears in Brussels that Mr Johnson will not implement the necessary checks and customs tariffs on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Under the withdrawal agreement, the Government is responsible for carrying on customs checks and collecting tariffs on goods crossing the Irish Sea.
EU officials believe this could create a potential flashpoint during trade talks, which are set to begin next month after the UK formally leaves the bloc on January 31.
On the prospect of the UK not fully implementing the Northern Ireland protocol, an EU source warned: “It’s counterproductive and will backfire.”
Mr Coveney said there was “no way” Brussels will agree to a tariff-free trade deal without a level playing field to eliminate “unfair competition” between UK and EU businesses.
“I don’t think anyone in the UK should underestimate the strength of feeling that will ensure in the new future trade relationship there isn’t a disparity in the cost of producing products in the context of level playing field,” he added.
His comments also come as a rebuff to Sajid Javid, who warned there will be a decisive break from the EU’s rules, saying “we will not be a rule-taker”.
In a weekend interview, the Chancellor told the Financial Times: “There will not be alignment, we will not be a rule-taker, we will not be in the single market and we will not be in the customs union – and we will do this by the end of the year.”
He added businesses will need to “adjust” to a new reality as the UK breaks away from the EU’s regulatory bubble.
“There will be an impact on business one way or the other, some will benefit, some won’t,” he said.
“Once we’ve got this agreement in place with our European friends, we will continue to be one of the most successful economies on Earth.”
An EU Commission spokesman confirmed the delay.
He said: “The institutional reality is the Commission can only adopt its proposals for the negotiation directives once the UK has actually from withdrawal from the EU.
“But there is still an institutional process on these being adopted by the European Council and this will take some time.
“We’ve said we would start negotiations as soon as we can,” he added, pointing towards the end of February or beginning of March as possible dates.