The UK has called on the EU to suspend an imminent ban on the sale of British sausages in Northern Ireland to give both parties “breathing space” to negotiate a Brexit protocol deal and avoid a trade war.
Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, spoke days after Boris Johnson warned he would do “whatever it takes” to protect Northern Ireland’s position as part of the UK.
Starting later this month, a grace period on an EU ban on the sale of chilled meats imported from outside the bloc will take effect as part of the Northern Ireland protocol, designed to prevent the reestablishment of a hard border. on the island of Ireland.
Frost confirmed that the UK had proposed a deal with the EU in which most of the controversial border controls on meat and dairy would be abolished, but admitted that the proposal has had “very little traction” from Brussels.
He told parliamentarians on the Northern Ireland affairs committee that it would be a “shame” if the EU did not respond to the request for an extension, as the negotiations “were already complex and tense”.
However, Frost said “good progress” was being made in talks aimed at resolving the growing dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol. “If we could get to a better environment … it would be very good,” he said.
“We have asked and suggested that the correct way to move forward would be to agree to extend the grace period, at least for a time, to provide some breathing room.”
Frost said a “negotiated” position was the best result, focusing on controls on food and agricultural products traded in the Irish Sea.
He confirmed that the United Kingdom had accepted some controls on the goods, but that it was a “super sensitive” issue and should be handled with sensitivity, arguing that there was still time to “loosen” tensions and reach an agreement on the protocol.
The dispute came to a head over what has been billed as an imminent “sausage trade war” centered on the end of June 30 of the six-month grace period for the sale of chilled meats from Great Britain in Northern Ireland. .
The EU warned that it would retaliate quickly if the UK suspended that deadline unilaterally, prompting veiled threats of a potential trade war.
Frost told MPs that the protocol had had a “chilling effect” on trade across the Irish Sea, and British companies said they “can’t be bothered” to sell in Northern Ireland.
But he said this “malaise” could be eliminated. Frost insisted that the UK had proposed a viable solution to the controls problem, which involved a New Zealand-style deal on food and agricultural products that would involve the EU in recognizing “equivalent” standards.
This wouldn’t prevent a ban on refrigerated meats, but a trusted merchant scheme could address that, Frost suggested.
He said the EU had not yet offered comment on his proposals, arguing that his previously stated opposition to such an approach was a political decision and not an “existential” approach to the world.
There was little to no risk of chilled meats destined for Northern Ireland supermarkets and corner shops entering the main Irish street and yet the EU insisted on controls in the Irish Sea, he said.
Frost denied that he was an ideological purist or that his view of sovereignty “was a carved, monolithic thing similar to Stonehenge.”
The “core of the difficulty” is that the UK had high food standards, equivalent to the EU, but the EU insisted on “checks” even though they were not necessary, he said.
Under an “equivalency” food standards agreement, the EU would respond by increasing controls if the UK diverged on food standards.
“If we can inject some momentum into this negotiation and show that solutions are possible. I’d like to think that would help, but they have to be fundamental solutions that change the balance of where things are. If the EU made a clear statement in that regard, it would help, ”he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism