UK And EU Confirm Sausage Truce But Future Clash Still Looms On Solution
The government and European Union have confirmed they have agreed to extend the grace period allowing the trade of chilled meat from Great Britain to Northern Ireland by three months.
The two sides said on Wednesday afternoon that the grace period, which was due to expire today, will now continue until 30 September, temporarily putting the so-called "sausage war" on hold.
Cabinet Office minister David Frost, who oversees the UK's post-Brexit relationship with the EU, said the government was "pleased" by the agreement but stressed both sides needed to find a "permanent solution" to the thorny issue of chilled meats.
"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.
“This is a very clear sign that the Protocol has to be operated in a pragmatic and proportionate way.
"The chilled meats issue is only one of a very large number of problems with the way the Protocol is currently operating, and solutions need to be found with the EU to ensure it delivers on its original aims: to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, safeguard Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom, and protect the EU's single market for goods.
"We look to work energetically with the EU to do so".
Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission Vice President, warned the government that the EU was "not issuing a blank cheque" and that the agreement was of "a temporary nature".
He said the UK "must" fulfill its obligations by implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol in full.
The UK and EU are under growing pressure to find ways of simplying the Northern Ireland Protocol for affected businesses amid unrest among unionist communities in the province.
The treaty, agreed as part of Brexit talks, was designed to avoid a contentious hard border on the island of Ireland, but created a trade border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The new barriers have resulted in significant disruption to trade across the Irish Sea, with some businesses in Great Britain deciding to stop sending goods to Northern Ireland altogether.Recent UK-EU talks have focused on EU regulations forbidding chilled meats including sausages, mince and pies from entering its markets from third countries like the UK.
Northern Ireland has followed EU regulations since 1 January as part of the Protocol.
However, the UK and EU agreed a grace period allowing the trade of chilled meats from Great Britain to Northern Ireland to continue until June 31. The UK this month asked the EU to extend the grace period, to avoid chilled meat products disappearing from Northern Irish shelves overnight.
There was also concern that letting the grace period expire today as originally planned would exacerbate tensions in Northern Ireland ahead of marching season.
Government sources insisted, however, that the time created by the extension should be used to find a permenant solution for allowing the trade of chilled meat across the Irish Sea to continue.
EU sources on Tuesday briefed that the UK had agreed to their position that the extension was to allow businesses more time to move away from British producers and switch to EU and local supply chains. Government sources said this was not the UK's view.
Frost in his statement also stressed that the agreement announced today did not require the UK to align with any changes to EU agrifood rules during the three-month period.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, welcomed the news but said it only dealt with a "peripheral" part of the disruption to trade across the Irish Sea.
"The most pressing issue is the fate of the thousands of food products moving daily from GB to NI, which will be subject to extensive controls when that grace period ends in October. We are no closer to a decision by both sides on this," he said.
“There is a frustration felt across business.
"We can see the technical solutions that are possible, such as a trusted trader scheme, yet there does not seem to be the political will to deliver them.
"We need both sides to live up to their commitments and find a pragmatic solution to ensure NI consumers continue to get access to both the choice and affordability in the food they need.
"Yet again the clock is ticking".
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