Major supermarkets in Northern Ireland are invincible in face of EU sausage ban threat

·4-min read
Big supermarkets in Northern Ireland do not import UK sausages so why the fuss? - AFP
Big supermarkets in Northern Ireland do not import UK sausages so why the fuss? - AFP

Northern Ireland’s most popular supermarkets will be unharmed by any EU ban on British bangers, the Telegraph can reveal, as London and Brussels teeter on the brink of a sausage trade war.

The row totally dominated the G7 meeting in Cornwall, was mentioned at Monday’s NATO summit and risks stoking tensions in Northern Ireland ahead of the marching season.

But Tesco, which boasts 50 stores in Northern Ireland, has only stocked sausages from local suppliers for several years.

Marks and Spencer, which has about 20 stores in the country, also gets its entire chilled sausage stock from Northern Ireland, which means the popular shops are invincible in the face of the threatened ban on imported UK sausages.

Other major supermarkets operating in Northern Ireland, which has a proud sausage making tradition, are believed to source most of their bangers domestically.

“People here like their sausages from the butcher’s and even if they go to the supermarket they’ll go for a local brand like Denny or Cookstown,” butcher Julie Price told the Belfast Live website.

Despite that Boris Johnson and the EU showed no sign of backing down in the banger battle.

"I think most people around the table understand the vital importance of a country looking after its territorial integrity. That's one of the things that, by the way, NATO is out there to do,” Mr Johnson said as he arrived at the summit in Brussels.

Clement Beaune, France’s Europe Minister, warned the EU would retaliate if Brexit commitments over Northern Ireland were not kept.

"Mr Johnson thinks that you can sign deals with the Europeans and not respect them and that Europe will not react. It is a test for Europe,” he said.

"In Northern Ireland there are sausage import problems,” Mr Beaune said, “Because when you leave the European Union, you have necessarily some (trade) barriers [...] Brexit has consequences."

Lord Frost and Maros Sefcovic, for the European Commission, are expected to meet virtually for another bid to break the deadlock over chilled meats such as sausages, mince meat and pork pies.

Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, checks are carried out on goods from the UK in the Irish Sea to prevent the need for a hard Irish border. Britain argues the checks are too burdensome.

Sausages are the latest Brexit flashpoint - Andrew Crowley
Sausages are the latest Brexit flashpoint - Andrew Crowley

The UK and EU are at loggerheads over post-Brexit rules for chilled meats imported to Northern Ireland from mainland Britain.

If an end of month grace period deadline expires without a food safety and animal health agreement, British sausages will be banned in Northern Ireland from July 1.

The European Commission last week threatened to launch a sausage trade war, if the UK overrides the Northern Ireland Protocol so that the delicacies can continue to be sold.

The commission has already triggered legal action against the UK for unilateral extension of grace periods for supermarket supplies and parcels, which it says broke international law.

During the G7, Boris Johnson said he would “not hesitate” to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to preserve UK sausage supplies to Northern Ireland.

Article 16 says it can be used to prevent “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade.”

“Article 16 is being treated as a jocular plaything when in fact it is the nuclear button,” said Simon Hoare, the Tory MP who chairs the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

“I think it is extraordinary given the agricultural productivity of Northern Ireland that it needs to import anything,” he added.

Mr Hoare suggested the province could use Brexit to transform itself into a meat processing powerhouse supplying both the UK and EU.

The sausage ban can be prevented with a veterinary deal but the UK has rejected EU demands it sign up for a Swiss-style agreement.

The commission argues this would remove the need for 80 per cent of the checks in the Irish Sea border, which the UK says are too burdensome.

But a Swiss deal would mean the UK agreeing to align with EU rules, which it refused to do in last year’s Brexit negotiations. Instead the UK wants its rules to be deemed equivalent to the EU’s.

The UK is building the EU a bespoke database on trade to Northern Ireland but could not provide data on British sausage supplies to the country.

Government figures revealed that about £51.4m worth of UK chilled meats, fish and crustaceans, including sausages, were exported to the EU. £586.4m worth of the produce was imported into the UK from the EU.

Since then the UK has left the Single Market and Customs Union, which has created barriers to trade with the EU.

£20.2m worth of chilled molluscs and meats were exported to non-EU countries and £393.9m imported.

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