Truce agreed in UK-EU ‘sausage war’ but questions remain over lasting solution

·3-min read
Sausages (PA Wire)
Sausages (PA Wire)

Brussels has warned it is not giving Boris Johnson’s Government a “blank cheque” after agreeing that chilled meats can continue being shipped to Northern Ireland for another three months.

The deal avoids a trade dispute – dubbed a “sausage war” – by delaying the ban until September 30 while efforts continue to find a lasting solution.

But European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said the extension, agreed on the day current arrangements were due to expire, came with strict conditions.

He warned that “this continuous rolling-over of the grace period” does not give “predictability and stability” to businesses in Northern Ireland.

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The UK had threatened to unilaterally extend the grace period to maintain the supply of sausages from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, in defiance of Brussels’ rules, which could have triggered retaliatory action from the EU.

The agreement – along with an EU promise to rewrite its rules to ensure medicines can continue being sent to Northern Ireland – showed there had been progress in discussions between the two sides.

The potential prohibition on chilled meats from Great Britain is one result of Brexit’s contentious Northern Ireland Protocol, which has created a series of economic barriers on Irish Sea trade.

The protocol is aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.

Shipments of chilled meats from third countries into the single market are generally banned – a prohibition which will eventually cover the rest of the UK unless a lasting solution is found.

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Brexit minister Lord Frost has repeatedly complained about the implementation of the protocol, which was part of the deal negotiated by him and signed by Boris Johnson.

“We are pleased we have been able to agree a sensible extension on chilled meats moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland – one that does not require rules in the rest of the UK to align with future changes in EU agrifood rules,” he said,

“This is a positive first step but we still need to agree a permanent solution – Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and its consumers should be able to enjoy products they have bought from Great Britain for years.”

He said the protocol “needs to be operated in a pragmatic and a proportionate way if it’s to be sustainable”.

“At the moment, it’s being operated in a legally purist way that is causing a very large number of problems of which the chilled meats issue is only one.”

Mr Sefcovic said: “We are not issuing a blank cheque. This solution is of temporary nature in which strong conditions are attached.”

But he insisted the deal was an “unquestionable response to those in the UK suggesting the EU is inflexible or too legalistic” – an apparent reference to Lord Frost and Mr Johnson.

Additional reporting by the Press Association news agency.

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