EU agrees to delay Brexit meat controls in Northern Ireland | Brexit
The European Commission has granted the UK a three-month extension to the sale of sausages in Northern Ireland in a bid to defuse a dispute that has poisoned post-Brexit relations.
In a widely followed decision, Brussels said fresh sausages and other chilled meats could continue to circulate between Britain and Northern Ireland until September 30, giving the two sides more time to resolve a fierce dispute. on the Northern Ireland Protocol, a centerpiece of Brexit. agreement.
As the line focuses on chilled sausages and minced meat, it revealed a fundamental clash over the EU’s fears of protecting its single market and the UK government’s desire for undiluted sovereignty, against a backdrop of heightened tensions and street violence in Northern Ireland.
Announcing the decision, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said: “Our job is to ensure that the hard-won gains of the Good Friday / Belfast deal – peace and stability in Northern Ireland – are protected, while avoiding a border with the island of Ireland and maintaining the integrity of the EU single market. Therefore, we have spared no effort in trying to alleviate some of the challenges that have arisen in the implementation of the protocol. “
To secure his ‘oven-ready’ Brexit deal, Boris Johnson agreed that Northern Ireland would remain in the EU’s customs union and single market, an outcome his predecessor, Theresa May, said. no British prime minister could accept.
The Brexit deal came into effect six months behind schedule on a ban on importing chilled meat into Northern Ireland from Britain, to help businesses adjust to the change . The EU does not allow chilled meats into its single market from any non-EU country, a ban the UK government has called ‘bonkers’ when it applies to Britain and to Northern Ireland. This month, Brexit Minister David Frost wrote to Brussels asking for a further delay, until September 30.
The request was granted after the UK agreed not to change national meat products law for the next three months. To allay EU concerns over the illegal entry of British meat into the EU, products will be labeled ‘UK only’ and sold exclusively in supermarkets in Northern Ireland.
Lord Frost said on Wednesday: “This is a positive first step, but we still have to agree on a permanent solution. Northern Ireland is an integral part of the UK and its consumers should be able to enjoy the products they have bought in Britain for years.
“The protocol must be applied in a pragmatic and proportionate manner. The issue of chilled meats is just one of the many issues related to the current operation of the protocol. “
The director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, Aodhán Connolly, said the extension was a “peripheral issue” for the trade. “The most pressing issue is the fate of the thousands of food items transferred daily from Britain to the NI, which will undergo extensive checks at the end of this grace period in October,” he said. . “We are no closer to a decision on both sides on this matter.”
This extension may only be a truce in the so-called sausage wars. An EU official warned: “We don’t intend to continue with slippery grace periods. These three months should therefore be used wisely.
The EU continues to pressure the UK to align its food and plant standards on the bloc, copying the example of Switzerland. A Swiss-style deal would mean 80% of controls – including those on live animals, fish, meat and dairy products – would disappear, according to the EU. “This could be negotiated very quickly, it may be temporary if the UK’s concern is that this would have an impact on future trade agreements, ”the official said.
Frost has rejected a Swiss-style agri-food deal as an “abrogation of sovereignty”. The UK wants both sides to recognize each other’s standards as good enough that checks are scrapped – an approach the EU has long ruled out.
In a related move, the EU also announced changes to other parts of the protocol, including:
A pledge to change EU law to allow Northern Ireland’s NHS to continue using generic drugs imported via Britain. The legal solution will mean UK regulators will ensure that imported medicines comply with EU safety rules.
Motorists in Northern Ireland will not need to carry a green insurance card when traveling to the Republic of Ireland
Guide dogs will be able to move between Great Britain and Northern Ireland without needing the animal health certificate usually required for pets.
Farm animals moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will not need to change ear tags multiple times.
EU officials hope the changes will ease tensions between the UK and Brussels, after a difficult six months since the Brexit trade deal was reached. The latest announcements follow Brussels’ long-awaited decision on Monday to recognize UK data protection standards as adequate, allowing digital information to flow freely across the Channel.
But the mistrust remains. The EU has not withdrawn a lawsuit against the UK it initiated when Frost unilaterally extended the grace periods for border controls under the protocol.
EU officials also remain unhappy with what they see as the UK government’s inability to properly manage and fund border checkpoints in Northern Ireland’s ports, a key part of the deal on Brexit.