The EU has formally accepted that the UK will not seek an extension to the Brexit transition period, which expires at the end of December.

Following a meeting of the Joint Committee, which brings together senior EU and UK figures to implement the Withdrawal Agreement, the vice president of the European Commission Maroc Sefcovic said there was now no longer any possibility for the transition to be extended.

While welcoming the UK's recent paper on how it would implement the Northern Ireland Protocol, Mr Sefcovic said there was still a lack of detail from the UK on its preparations.

UK cabinet office minister Michael Gove said on Twitter: "I formally confirmed the UK will not extend the transition period & the moment for extension has now passed. On 1 January 2021 we will take back control and regain our political & economic independence."

Asked about plans for the border in Ireland, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesperson said they are taking "a pragmatic and flexible approach" to try to help businesses in Northern Ireland adapt to the changes at the end of the transition period.

However, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister has described the UK's decision not to seek an extension as reckless.

Michelle O'Neill said the British government was treating Northern Ireland with "blatant disregard and disrespect".

Speaking in Coalisland, Co Tyrone, she said it was clear from this morning's meeting that there has not been sufficient progress in terms of the implementation of the protocol.

"What I wanted to do at the meeting today was to put down very firmly on the record that I disassociated myself from the British government's failure to call for an extension to the Brexit transition," she said.

"Our economy is also dealing with the shock of Covid-19. So the British government's decision today, I believe is both shameful, it's reckless, and it actually is ignoring the reality it's showing a blatant disregard for the needs of our local economy here."

However, Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster has rejected the claim that the UK’s decision not to seek an extension was reckless.

The DUP leader said it was no surprise that the British Government had stuck to its stated position.

"That was the position they were elected on last December, that they would get Brexit done that there wouldn't be any extensions," she told RTÉ News.

"I've been saying that talking to colleagues in the executive for quite some time. So, not really surprised, I think what we really need to see happening now is clarity for our businesses having that certainty.

"And we know here in Northern Ireland more than anywhere if you have an extension, sometimes that makes things go off into the future, what we need to do now is to get really down to the business of getting that certainty and clarity for our businesses."


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Meanwhile, the British government has also announced a six-month phased transition to full customs controls, during the first half of next year. 

It will apply to all trade with the EU, but will not apply to trade flows through Northern Ireland, which are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement.

The British announcement was made at the meeting of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee. 

The British government has also set out plans to phase in customs controls on all goods entering Britain from 1 January, and begin the construction of new customs facilities. 

The move confirms industry fears that Britain was not ready to start a new customs regime on 1 January, but has been welcomed as a pragmatic step to help industry adapt.

Today's meeting, via video conference, was due to focus on the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has been the subject of ongoing tension between both sides.

Under the Protocol, goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland will be subject to EU customs and regulatory formalities from 1 January next year.

The UK was represented by Mr Gove, while the EU was represented by Mr Šefčovič, a Slovak vice-president of the European Commission.

The committee is charged with ensuring that the Brexit divorce treaty is properly implemented, including those add-on protocols, such as that which covers Northern Ireland.

Specifically it must establish the criteria by which any goods coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom must pay tariffs, or be exempt from tariffs.

Since the first meeting at the end of April, the UK has published a so-called Command Paper, setting out how it intends to put in place a new regime of checks and controls at Northern ports and airports, which in themselves will require IT systems, personnel and infrastructure. 

The European Commission said it would be asking detailed questions about how exactly that process is going.

Northern Ireland businesses have long warned that an ongoing lack of detail from the UK government over how it will manage the new system is holding up the necessary investment and training.

Additional reporting Sean Whelan, Vincent Kearney