The UK government is understood to have told the European Commission it will extend grace periods in a letter responding to legal action launched recently by Brussels over the failure to comply with the Northern Ireland protocol.
Despite politics as usual being paused while the nation mourns the Queen’s death, No 10 responded to the EU’s request for a reply to its legal infringement proceedings by the end of 15 September.
It means some food products will continue to be sent from Great Britain to Northern Ireland without the physical checks required by the EU to comply with its single market rules.
Brussels is expected to hold off on any immediate retaliation or fresh legal action, as the two sides try to avoid escalation of the row over the protocol.
European Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie said on Thursday: “I can confirm we have received a reply from the UK. We will now analyse the reply before deciding on the next steps.”
Ms Truss’s Northern Ireland protocol bill – the highly-controversial plan to unilaterally override checks agreed in the Brexit deal – remains the biggest sticking point between both sides.
In June the Commission launched legal action against the British government in response to the bill announced by Ms Truss. And in July, Brussels launched four new “infringement proceedings” – accusing the UK of breaking parts of the Brexit deal.
However, the decision to extend grace periods is unlikely to trigger further moves while the prospect of fresh talks aimed at reaching a compromise on the protocol remains a possibility.
Earlier this week, Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic urged Ms Truss to restart negotiations and drop her highly-controversial bill in an interview with the Financial Times.
Mr Sefcovic said he wants to reduce physical customs checks across the Irish Sea to just a “couple of lorries a day”, claiming there was almost no difference between the UK demand for “no checks” and the EU’s offer of “minimum checks, done in an invisible manner”.
However, British officials have made clear they see little new in the offer from the EU Brexit chief, and Ms Truss insisted last week that any compromise has to “deliver all of the things we set out in the Northern Ireland protocol bill”.
The UK government has said new elections to the Northern Ireland assembly should be called on 28 October if the impasse at Stormont remains, with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refusing to rejoin powersharing arrangements until the protocol is ditched.
Despite the Stormont deadline, Mujtaba Rahman – Brexit analyst at the Eurasia Group – said it was in neither side’s interests to make a fuss over the extension of grace periods in the weeks ahead when both are dealing with the Ukraine war and the energy crisis.
“The Commission will effectively let the status quo on grace periods prevail … the can is being kicked in the short-term,” Mr Rahman told The Independent. “But the fundamental problem remains – there is no convergence on the substance of the dispute on the GB-NI border.”
He added: “There remains little or no likelihood that an agreement can be reached, unless Liz Truss is willing to lose the right of her party. The big question is, can the two sides avoid escalation? If the [protocol] bill becomes law … at that point, the EU will feel compelled to respond, possibly by serving notification of their intention to suspend the [Brexit] trade agreement.”
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will be in London for the Queen’s funeral on Monday. Ms Truss will meet a “small proportion” of world leaders attending the funeral at the country mansion of Chevening House and No 10 this weekend.
Ms Truss hopes to hold a private meeting with Joe Biden when the US president visits for the Queen’s funeral, and there are reports the PM could also meet with Irish premier Micheal Martin, amid ongoing tensions over the protocol.
The PM’s official spokesman could not confirm which leaders she will be meeting. He said the meetings were not formal bilateral meetings, portraying them as chats to offer condolences over the Queen’s death – but said political issues were also likely to come up.