EU Will Act 'Swiftly' if Brexit Trade Deal With U.K. Is Broken, Top Negotiator Says

The European Union's top Brexit negotiator said Tuesday the organization will act "swiftly" if the U.K. breaks commitments under the Brexit trade deal that allowed it to leave the EU, the Associated Press reported.

The deal is supposed to support post-Brexit trade between Europe and the U.K. It provides for an open border between the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland. This has angered citizens of Northern Ireland since it sets up a customs border between the region and the rest of the U.K., which means new red tape for businesses.

Meanwhile, the U.K. has delayed the inspection of supermarket items shipped to Northern Ireland, angering the EU, which will not enter the region unless a deal between the U.K. and EU is agreed on.

"If this does not happen, and if the U.K. takes further unilateral action over the coming weeks, the EU will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure that the U.K. abides by its international law obligations," the EU's Brexit negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, said.

Maros Sefcovic
Vice President of the European Commission Maros Sefcovic attends the inauguration of North Atlantic Treaty Organization Center for Resilience on May 31 in Bucharest, Romania. Daniel Mihailescu/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Sefcovic says the EU is ready to act "firmly and resolutely" if the U.K. fails to honor its commitments under the divorce deal that was supposed to keep trade flowing after Britain left the EU.

Sefcovic's comments, published Tuesday in The Daily Telegraph, came a day before he holds talks with U.K. Brexit Minister David Frost on implementing the agreement,

The relationship between the two sides has grown tense amid concerns over the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, part of the deal that is designed to protect the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Pro-British unionists fear the customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. will weaken ties between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

The EU says the provisions—agreed upon by the U.K. and the EU as part of Britain's exit terms from the 27-nation bloc—are needed to protect the EU single market.

The U.K. angered Brussels earlier this year when it unilaterally extended a grace period delaying the inspection of many supermarket items shipped to Northern Ireland from England, Scotland and Wales. The Telegraph reported that the U.K. may extend this action to include chilled meats such as sausages and ground beef, which won't be allowed into Northern Ireland from July 1 unless the two sides strike a deal.

Sefcovic cautioned against such action, saying negotiators should strive to achieve "mutually agreed compliance paths."

While Sefcovic didn't specify what those actions might be, the Times of London quoted an unidentified EU official as saying the bloc was ready to impose trade sanctions and retaliatory tariffs.

Britain accused the EU of taking an unnecessarily "purist approach" to the new rules.

"There's no case whatsoever for preventing chilled meats from being sold in Northern Ireland," said Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman, Max Blain. "We are working very hard to try and resolve these issues consensually."

He added, "Time is starting to run out, and solutions are urgently needed."

European Union Brexit Negotiator Maros Sefcovic
European Commissioner for Inter-institutional Relations and Foresight Maros Sefcovic speaks during an April 27 debate at the European Parliament in Brussels. Olivier Hoslet/Pool FILE via AP