End of 'Sausage War'? EU Reportedly Mulls Lifting Number of Northern Ireland Border Checks
06:18 GMT 09.10.2021 (Updated: 15:16 GMT 28.05.2023)
Last month, London extended a "grace period" for implementing checks on goods travelling from the British mainland to Northern Ireland in the wake of the post-Brexit trade deal with the EU. The move is part of London's efforts to end a trade dispute with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol, dubbed the "sausage war".
European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic has announced that the EU plans to brief the British government on new proposals pertaining to the pressing issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP)
The NIP, which came into force in early 2021, is an arrangement that ensures there's no need for checks along the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
"What we are discussing right now [is] where we would like to put the final touches hopefully by the by the middle of next week. It's a very simple proposal but from our perspective these would be really, I would say, very far-reaching proposal", he told a virtual meeting on Thursday.
Sefcovic added that he thought "it is [in] the best interest of both of us that we will try to find a reasonable solution before the end of the year, early next year".
British media reports said that the European Commission vice president is considering tabling four papers next week to improve the NIP, which will include measures to resolve the availability of UK-approved medicines and inspections on meat, dairy, and plant products.
The Guardian cited an unnamed source as saying that the proposals include a "national identity" exemption for British sausages from EU rules on prepared meat, which may help tackle a protracted dispute between Brussels and the UK government on the matter.
Unnamed senior EU sources, in turn, were quoted by Euronews as saying that the European Commission may announce a "bespoke" arrangement for Northern Ireland, which remains part of the bloc's single market, to prevent a hard land border with the Republic of Ireland.
"We obviously can't get rid of all checks; we need to protect the single market, so surveillance will still apply but we hope to simplify a lot of this", the source claimed.
The head of the Irish government, Micheal Martin, argued that the EU "is in solution mode and will be coming forward with proposals in relation to this issue". According to him, the UK government is "solution-focused as well".
"So, there is a window of opportunity over the next six weeks to two months to try and get these issues resolved to the mutual satisfaction of all, so that we can make the protocol work operationally for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland", Martin said.
The statement was followed by the UK government making it clear that "chilled meats is just one issue out of many that need to be resolved if the protocol is to be put on a sustainable footing".
US Warns About NIP's Implications
The developments come as US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan asserted that London's spat with Brussels over the Northern Ireland Protocol could create "a serious risk to stability".
"The United States government, as President Biden said in the Oval Office with Prime Minister Johnson, strongly supports the Good Friday agreement [the1998 Northern Ireland peace deal], believes it must be protected, believes that peace and stability in Northern Ireland must be protected", Sullivan added, warning against "the return of a hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
This followed UK Brexit Minister David Frost setting a November deadline for a solution to the NIP deadlock, warning that Britain "cannot wait forever" for border checks to be improved.
Issue of Northern Ireland Protocol
As part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement between Brussels and London
, Northern Ireland remained in the European single market and customs unions after the UK left the EU on 31 December 2020. While there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, all goods and animal-based products coming from elsewhere in the UK must be checked upon arrival in Northern Ireland to comply with EU sanitary regulations.
As inspections take place at Northern Ireland ports, and customs documents have to be filled in, this has prompted criticism that a new border has effectively been created in the Irish Sea.
Both sides agreed on a six-month "grace period", which has been in place since January, temporarily suspending the rules of the NIP, including on the deliveries of chilled meat to Northern Ireland. In early September, the "grace period" was unilaterally extended by London.
After the UK voiced its intention to renegotiate the NIP, the bloc opposed the idea. Amid the ensuing deadlock in negotiations, Brussels warned that it could respond with legal action against Britain if it failed to honour the original deal.