Britain plans to further extend post-Brexit grace periods on some imports to Northern Ireland to give London and Brussels more time for talks on trade with the province, Brexit Minister David Frost said on Monday.
The fate of British-ruled Northern Ireland was the most contentious issue in the UK's negotiations over its exit from the EU and it has continued to cause friction. The withdrawal was completed on December 31.
To avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, Britain agreed to leave some EU rules in place in its province and accept checks on goods arriving there from elsewhere in the UK.
London has since said the arrangement is not working and wants it changed, while the EU rejects renegotiating the treaty.
"To provide space for potential further discussions, and to give certainty and stability to businesses while any such discussions proceed, the government will continue to operate the protocol on the current basis," Mr Frost said wrote.
"This includes the grace periods and easements currently in force."
Officials in London and Brussels are trying to prevent the dispute from turning into a full-blown trade war.
The European Commission agreed in July to freeze legal action against Britain for making changes to the protocol that Brussels says breach the Brexit treaty.
London has now indicated it will suspend new checks on cross-channel trade, which were due to start in weeks.
“Over the coming weeks, we will continue to talk to the EU to see if it is possible to make genuine and substantive progress on the proposals in our command paper on the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol," the British government said.
Ireland is a key player in post-Brexit trade talks and its Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said after a meeting with British Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove that he expected the British delay to lead towards attempts for a more permanent solution.
"The expectation is that the United Kingdom will announce a further extension of the grace periods, not just in relation to Northern Ireland but also imports from the EU and Ireland into the UK," Mr Varadkar told Irish state broadcaster RTE.
"It is important that we use the period of any extension that may occur really to get down to business and to try to put in place more permanent ... arrangements to make sure that the protocol is made more workable."
The European Commission is expected to "note" the British decision rather than retaliate, RTE reported.
But Mr Varadkar said that any more permanent solution secured by London and Brussels would have to be within the confines of the existing agreement.
He said Mr Gove told him that Britain "doesn't want to walk away from the protocol but does want to make it more workable".
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said last month he believed the issues could be resolved with the right political will.