Brussels has turned its rules and regulations “upside down” to make the Northern Ireland Protocol work, the EU’s ambassador to the UK said on Wednesday after a three-month truce was agreed in the sausage war over a Brexit ban on British bangers.
João Vale de Almeida said the extension to a Protocol grace period for chilled meats and a string of concessions to smooth Protocol barriers for medicines, guide dogs, livestock and car insurance proved that the EU was not “inflexible” or “legalistic”.
Writing for The Telegraph, he warned that the EU would insist upon the full implementation of the Protocol, which keeps Northern Ireland subject to almost 300 EU rules and creates an Irish Sea border for goods from Britain.
Mr Vale de Almeida said the concessions were “an unquestionable response” to “those in the UK suggesting that the EU is inflexible or too legalistic”.
Lord Frost, the Brexit Minister, has repeatedly accused the EU of a lack of pragmatism in talks over the implementation of the Protocol, which he says has a chilling effect on GB-to-NI trade.
The DUP, which fears a wedge is being driven between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, claims that Brussels ignores the concerns of the Unionist community.
Brussels has promised to change EU law to remove obstacles to the supply of life-saving generic drugs to the NHS in Northern Ireland before another grace period expires at the end of the year.
Brexit sausage war explained
“In some cases, notably on medicines, we have completely turned our rules upside down and inside out to find a solid solution to an outstanding challenge,” Mr Vale de Almeida said.
“Who said we didn’t care? We do care. And while we remain firm on the full implementation of the Protocol, we also continue to seek creative solutions.”
Maros Sefcovic, vice-president of the European Commission, said the extension to the Protocol grace period on chilled meat preparations came with strict conditions to ensure sausages are sold only in Northern Ireland and not EU member, the Republic of Ireland.
Unfrozen British sausages and mince meat have not been allowed to be sold in the EU since Brexit took effect on December 31 2020 because the two sides have not sealed a veterinary agreement.
“We are not issuing a blank cheque. This solution is of temporary nature in which strong conditions are attached,” he said in Brussels.
EU officials said the delay to the deadline was to give Northern Irish supermarkets more time to source their sausages from Ireland, other EU countries or local suppliers.
“We need a permanent solution that allows British sausages and chilled meats to go to Northern Ireland just as they do to every other part of the UK,” Lord Frost said.
The Protocol, which keeps Northern Ireland part of the EU’s customs territory to avoid a hard Irish border, initially had a six-month grace period allowing continued supplies of British sausages until Thursday.
The extension ends a two-month war of words triggered in June when The Telegraph revealed that the UK was considering unilaterally extending the Northern Ireland grace period to avoid a looming banger ban.
Brussels said that would break international law and warned it could retaliate with tariffs in a sausage trade war.
Lord Frost said the Government would never allow a situation where British chilled meat preparations could not be exported to Northern Ireland.
“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.
“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.”
Brussels repeated its call for the UK to agree to a Swiss-style veterinary agreement, which would align Britain with EU animal health and food safety rules, and prevent the banger ban taking effect on September 30.
The UK argues that tying the country to EU rules would hamper its ability to sign trade deals with other countries. Brussels has offered to make the alignment temporary until those trade agreements are signed.
The Government has undertaken not to change its food safety and animal health rules before the end of the new grace period on September 30.
Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said: “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.”
On Wednesday, a High Court judge in Belfast rejected a legal challenge against the Protocol from a group of unionist politicians, including former DUP leader Arlene Foster.