Amid pandemic, UK delays imposing post-Brexit border checks

LONDON — Britain announced Thursday that it is delaying the imposition of checks on some goods from the European Union to give businesses more time to prepare for new post-Brexit rules.

The U.K. government says it is postponing full border controls until Jan. 1, six months later than planned, because of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But the move risks worsening relations with the EU, which is already angry at a series of unilateral British decisions over trade.

Britain left the EU’s economic embrace at the end of 2020, and under a new trade deal customs inspections and other checks are required on trade between the two.

Britain’s EU relations minister, David Frost, said the six-month delay would “give traders time to focus on getting back on their feet as the economy opens up after a difficult year.”

The announcement follows Britain’s decision to delay checks on some goods moving to Northern Ireland from other parts of the U.K.

Northern Ireland continues to follow EU trade rules in order to preserve its open border with Ireland, a member of the bloc. But that means new checks and disruption to trade with the rest of the U.K. — a move that has dismayed both traders and Northern Ireland’s pro-British Unionist community.

The EU says any problems must be worked out jointly between the U.K. and the bloc and says it will take legal action against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government for breaching the divorce agreement the two sides signed late last year.

The bloc’s ambassador in London, Joao Vale de Almeida, said Thursday that the two sides should “give up on trying to score points” and try to make their new relationship work.

“For all that we need to have high levels of trust — mutual trust,” he said. “Trust is maybe the most important commodity in international agreements.”

Trust is in short supply as the two sides spar over issues related to Brexit and coronavirus vaccines.

This week, European Council President Charles Michel claimed the U.K. had imposed an “outright ban” on coronavirus vaccine exports.

Johnson retorted that “we have not blocked the export of a single COVID-19 vaccine or vaccine components.”

EU officials are under pressure over the slow progress of the bloc’s vaccination efforts. The United Kingdom has given more than 40% of its adults a vaccine shot, compared to about 10% in the EU.