MEPs are expected to announce they have approved Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal, with the European Parliament vote result due to be declared.
Before voting on the Trade and Co-operation Agreement reached with the Prime Minister on Christmas Eve, Brussels politicians were told by the European Commission president that the deal has “real teeth”.
Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday the bloc would not hesitate to take action if the UK breached the agreed terms, which govern the way the UK and EU deal with each other.
The deal has been applied provisionally since January 1 but requires the approval of MEPs – who were not expected to oppose it – before it can be ratified.
The result is expected at 9am on Wednesday.
Relations between the UK and EU have been strained over the application of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which governs the post-Brexit arrangements aimed at preventing a hard border with Ireland and was part of the divorce deal signed in January last year.
Much of the disruption and controversy created by the protocol relates to the fact Great Britain has left the Single Market for goods, while Northern Ireland remains in the EU regulatory zone.
That necessitates a significant number of documentary checks and physical inspections on agri-food goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
The UK has unilaterally extended grace periods covering areas of the economy including supermarket supplies and parcel deliveries to Northern Ireland from Great Britain, meaning post-Brexit checks are not yet fully applied – which has triggered a legal dispute with Brussels.
Ms von der Leyen said there was a need for “joint solutions” as “unilateral decisions will get us nowhere”.
If we have violence in Northern Ireland it’s because of the lies of Prime Minister Johnson
During the debate on the deal, MEPs were critical of Mr Johnson’s use of the protocol since it came into force.
“When I grew up, UK diplomacy was for me a symbol of credibility,” said Manfred Weber, the German leader of the centre-right EPP Group. “Today, when we see the Northern Ireland Protocol implementation and how Johnson behaves, the message is ‘I don’t care, I don’t care even about my signature’.
“That’s the new Great Britain we have as a partner on our side.”
It was a view echoed by Green leader Philippe Lamberts, who said the Prime Minister was “not necessarily as good as his word” and “if we have violence in Northern Ireland it’s because of the lies of Prime Minister Johnson”.
Politicians in Dublin, however, took a softer approach as London looked to advance conversations cross-border relations.
Downing Street confirmed Mr Johnson spoke to his Irish counterpart, Taoiseach Micheal Martin, on Tuesday evening to discuss Northern Ireland and the “importance of continued good relations between the UK and Ireland to the peace process”.
Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney followed up by suggesting solutions could be found to the outstanding issues around trade in Northern Ireland post-Brexit.
He said finding a way forward within the framework of the protocol will foster stability when it is “needed now more than ever”.
“I firmly believe that acting together within the framework of the protocol, the EU and UK can find solutions to the outstanding issues,” Mr Coveney told an Irish parliamentary committee.
Meanwhile, in a possible boost for a post-Brexit trade deal with Washington, Cabinet minister Liz Truss held “positive” talks with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai on Tuesday, the Department for International Trade said.
A spokeswoman said the Trade Secretary and Ms Tai “discussed issues of mutual importance, including making substantive progress on WTO reform, the role of trade in combating climate change, tough action on market-distorting industrial subsidies and the Airbus Boeing dispute”.
“Both welcomed the outcome of the G7 trade ministers meeting at the end of March and looked forward to making further progress at the next meeting, due to take place in late May,” she added.