EU tries to loosen Brexit deadlock with colour-coded plan for Swiss-style deal

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Gu Photography/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Gu Photography/Alamy

All Brexit border checks on food, including chilled meats, entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain would be abolished if the UK signed up to a Swiss-style veterinary agreement, the EU has said.

As the escalating row over Northern Ireland threatened to develop into a full-blown trade war, the EU tried to ease tensions with the publication of a new chart on Wednesday night. It gave fresh detail on alternatives to the controversial checks on fresh food, including sausages, after Brexit.

According to the red, amber and green categorisation of foods, a Swiss-style deal would remove all documentary and physical checks on red meat, poultry, mince, fish and dairy. Pets would be able to travel between Great Britain and Northern Ireland with a pet passport.

The UK has already ruled out this option, because it requires regulatory alignment with the EU.

The table also set out in detail what would happen if a deal were modelled on a veterinary agreement between New Zealand and Australia, showing 100% abolition of checks on beef, lamb, chicken, cheese and milk.

However it would not solve the sausage dispute, as fresh British minced meat would be banned from entering Northern Ireland.

Related: Boris Johnson must respect rule of law and implement Brexit deal, says EU

The table showed that documentation required for fresh meat would also be simplified, echoing claims by a European Commission vice-president at a press conference in London on Wednesday that he had offered the UK a solution on meat. “If you are sending sausage, cheese or meat products to Northern Ireland the very easy solution is to just put the sticker on it: ‘for Northern Ireland only’, and … we agreed on a simplified export health certificate,” said Maroš Šefčovič.

Matt Kilcoyne, deputy director of the Adam Smith Institute, said the chart showed how flexible the EU could be if the prevailing politics favoured a UK desire for a New Zealand-style deal.

“The table is fascinating because what they have done is colour-coded the totally arbitrary decisions over what needs to be documented and what gets physically checked,” he said. “The figures just seem to be a finger-in-the-air exercise; there’s no scientific basis as to why there should be 10% physical checks on dairy coming into the EU from New Zealand as opposed to 30% coming from the UK.”

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Sam Lowe, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, said the obvious solution was a Swiss-style deal for Northern Ireland “even on a temporary basis” to allow the UK government to diverge in the future for the sake of a trade deal with another country, such as the US.

Lowe also said the New Zealand-style deal with a separate sausage side-deal could be the answer. “A New Zealand-type deal doesn’t help with all products and it doesn’t remove all checks but it reduces the level of interventions and [could be] combined with an expansion of the trusted trade scheme to continue, for example, to allow British sausages to be sold in Northern Ireland supermarkets.”

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