The export of British lawnmowers to Northern Ireland could be prevented under new EU rules, MPs warned as London and Brussels prepared to announce a ceasefire in their sausage war on Wednesday.
A European scrutiny committee report said the British machinery industry – which exports £9 billion of equipment to Europe – would face new barriers to trade unless the UK changed its rules to match the tougher EU regime.
Companies would face the same costs and obstacles in exporting goods to Northern Ireland even if, for example, lawnmowers met UK standards. They could be blocked from Northern Ireland if they did not meet EU standards, MPs said.
New draft regulations from Brussels require all "high risk machinery" – which includes lawnmowers and robots used in car-making – to have independent product safety tests from 2024.
Current EU rules, transposed into UK law after Brexit, allow tests to be carried out by manufacturers.
The Northern Ireland Protocol introduces checks on British goods exported to the country to ensure that they meet EU standards in case they cross into EU member state Ireland.
Northern Ireland continues to follow almost 300 EU single market rules, which the Government argues are too burdensome and having a chilling effect on GB to NI trade.
The DUP wants the protocol to be scrapped, arguing that it is driving a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Tensions have been further stoked by a looming ban on British sausages in Northern Ireland. A protocol grace period for chilled meat preparations such as unfrozen sausages is due to expire at the end of the month, but that has been pushed back for three months.
However, the EU will warn that the three-month sausage war ceasefire is to buy Northern Irish shops time to find alternatives to British producers.
The announcement of an extension prevents an immediate Brexit ban on British sausages being sold in the country.
But EU officials said the situation would not be permitted to become permanent and that, unless the UK agreed to align with EU food rules in a Swiss-style veterinary agreement, British sausages’ days in Northern Ireland shops were numbered.
"The three months is first and foremost for businesses to change their supply chains," said one official.
Unfrozen UK sausages have not been allowed in the EU since Brexit took effect on Dec 31. Tesco, Northern Ireland’s largest supermarket, and Marks and Spencer already source their sausages from local suppliers.
EU officials said they did not want to be seen to be giving in to British threats to unilaterally extend the grace period, which Brussels said would break international law and could be punished by tariffs in a potential sausage trade war.
It would have been the third unilateral British extension to grace periods after the UK moved to prevent checks on supermarket supplies and parcels.
The UK had asked for the extension to give negotiations over a veterinary agreement that could prevent the sausage ban "breathing space" ahead of the start of Northern Ireland’s marching season.
"The reason why we asked for an extension is to give us breathing space to find a permanent solution," a senior government source said. "It doesn’t change any of the fundamentals."
The EU wants the UK to align to its food safety and animal health rules in a Swiss-style agreement, but the Government has rejected that on sovereignty grounds. Britain wants the EU to recognise its oversight as equivalent to Brussels.
On Tuesday night, UK Government sources rejected suggestions that the ban could still come into force if no agreement was reached, pointing out that ministers had made it clear they would never allow a situation in which British sausages could not be sold in the province.
Brussels will also announce plans to change EU law to remove obstacles to the supply of generic drugs to the NHS in Northern Ireland before the end of a different grace period.
Other measures to ensure that guide dogs can easily visit Northern Ireland and drivers have access to second-hand cars will also be set out by Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice-president and Lord Frost’s opposite number.