The Northern Ireland Grace Periods Will Be Extended Indefinitely
The government has announced an open-ended extension to grace periods for trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, as talks with the European Union over finding long-term fixes continue.
As PoliticsHome reported earlier on Monday, the government had consulted Brussels about extending the grace periods until 2022, with an indefinite extension being its preference.
Businesses in Great Britain which send goods to Northern Ireland were set to face a significant wave of new red tape on 1 October after the grace periods covering trade across the Irish Sea had expired.
Lord Frost, who oversees the UK’s relationship with the EU, said in a Written Ministerial Statement on Monday afternoon that the government would move to delay the expiration of these grace periods while discussions with the EU over altering the Northern Ireland Protocol continue.
This would “provide space for potential further discussions” and “give certainty and stability to businesses, Frost said.
The European Commission lanched legal action against the UK when Boris Johnson took unilateral steps to alter the Protocol earlier this year. The bloc has decided not to take legal steps this time around. However, in a statement it said it would "not agree to a renegotiation" of the post-Brexit treaty for Northern Ireland.
A delay to checks on goods of animal origin like meat, fish, and dairy products entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain was set to expire at the end of this month. Businesses moving these goods across the Irish Sea were bracing for significant new paperwork as a result.
A ban on chilled meats entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain — or what has been dubbed the "sausage wars" — was also set to come into force on 1 October when a grace period recently agreed by the UK and EU fell away.
Northern Irish business groups had warned that this array of new paperwork would make it harder and more costly for retailers to get products into the province, and were urging the UK and Brussels to extend the grace periods currently in place to avoid significant disruption.
Aodhan Connolly, Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said "more time is required" for UK and EU negotiators to find ways of reducing barriers to trade across the Irish Sea brought about by Brexit.
However, he warned that the latest delay could not be "another can-kicking exercise" and urged both the government and Brussels to compromise in forthcoming talks.
The government wants to effectively reneogitiate the Northern Ireland Protocol, agreed with the EU as part of Brexit talks, arguing that it is causing an unacceptable level of disruption to people and businesses in the province.
In July the it set out how it wanted the treaty to be overhauled in a 20-page command paper. All checks on goods heading from Great Britain to Northern Ireland should stop, the paper said, arguing that businesses should be trusted to self-report the destination of their products.
A UK government spokesperson today said: “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 EU has said it is willing to make changes to how the Northern Ireland Protocol operates but only within the existing framework of the treaty, whereas Boris Johnson wants to rewrite it.
European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, who is Lord Frost's opposite number in Brussels, is expected to respond to the UK announcement while visiting Northern Ireland later this week. He is set to hold a press conference in the province on Friday.
Goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland have been subject to checks and paperwork since 1 January, by virtue of Northern Ireland continuing to follow the EU's trading rules. This was agreed to avoid a contentious hard border on the island of Ireland.
The government argues the EU is taking an overzealous approach to enforcing the rules, while Brussels argues the friction is the direct result of what Johnson signed up when he agreed to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
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