The European Union has warned that key preparations on the Northern Ireland Protocol must be under way by 1 July if the new regime on checks and controls on goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland is to come into effect on 1 January next.

The warning comes in a technical note circulated to member states, and follows the first meeting of the joint EU-UK committee which is tasked with implementing the protocol, as mandated by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

RTÉ News understands that both the EU and UK also remain at odds over the EU's request to maintain an office in Northern Ireland.

The protocol on Northern Ireland means there will not be a border on the island of Ireland, but customs controls and regulatory checks will have to happen on goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland.

There have been real strains in the EU-UK relationship since the Withdrawal Agreement was concluded last October, with Brussels increasingly worried that the UK is either not taking its obligations to prepare for those checks and controls seriously, or it is taking too long.

Deepening the sour mood is the fact that the UK has now twice flatly refused a request from the EU to keep a physical presence in Belfast.

Brussels and Dublin believe if EU customs and veterinary officials are going to oversee those checks and controls, they will need to maintain an office in Northern Ireland.

In a note circulated to member states, the EU says the protocol is now the biggest challenge facing the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement as its requirements are both highly complex and politically sensitive.

The note spells out how much has to be prepared, in terms of customs formalities, agrifood and animal health checks, VAT rules, fisheries and other regulatory and certification requirements.

It warns that preparations for IT systems and customs databases need to have started within the next four weeks.

A British official said the technical note was neither agreed with, nor shared with, the UK and that London would be complying with its legal obligations under the protocol.