The Brexit trade deal will not be fully approved by the EU until the end of April, after the UK reluctantly agreed to a two-month delay.
Ministers had resisted the move, insisting the “provisional application” given in December should end this month and warning about the “uncertainty” created.
Although Michael Gove gave the go-ahead, he said the new ‘partnership council’ – which businesses hope will ease the crisis caused by the Christmas Eve agreement – should not “begin work” until ratification is completed.
Brussels, unlike the UK, gave the deal only provisional approval after the frenzied negotiations continued into the final days of 2020 and the European Parliament refused to rush it through.
It has allowed the new trading arrangements to be applied in practice, even though the Parliament and the EU Council of national leaders have not yet signed it off.
The request for delay flowed from the need to make the text available in all 24 EU languages, for scrutiny by the Parliament and the national governments.
Brussels has played down any fears of the deal lapsing – but some believe any delay creates a vacuum in which the growing tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol could fester.
Boris Johnson’s surprise decision to pick David Frost to lead the future negotiations – stripping the more dovish Mr Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, of the role – has provoked fears of more clashes to come.
It was suggested he will try to “effectively renegotiate” the Protocol and that he “thinks Michael’s been too weak on it”.
In a letter, Mr Gove said the UK had always opposed any delay to ratification “given the uncertainty it creates for individuals and businesses and indeed the parties”.
“Extending the period of provisional application prolongs that uncertainty,” he told Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission’s vice-president.
The UK now expected the EU to “satisfy its internal requirements” before 30 April, so “we would therefore not be asked to further extend the period”.
Some companies are pinning their hopes on the partnership council to find ways to unlock the hugely-damaging blockages created by the agreement.
Exports have been hit by the blizzard of new red tape, with requirements for health checks and customs documents – and ban on shellfish trade is “indefinite”, the EU is warning.
The head of Scottish Food and Drink alleged that ministers are refusing to open talks to find solutions until the EU feels “some of the pain”.
But, in the letter, Mr Gove – who gives way for Lord Frost next Monday – said: “While this uncertainty persists, and until the period of provisional application is over, we do not believe the partnership council and other bodies....should begin their work formally.”
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