EU and U.K. Put ‘Sausage War’ on Hold While They Seek Brexit Fix
The U.K. and the European Union postponed a clash over British companies selling chilled meats to Northern Ireland for three months, though both sides said they still need to find a permanent plan for post-Brexit trade in the region.
The extension will last until Sept. 30, according to a U.K. statement. The agreement will, for now at least, calm tensions in what the British media have labeled the Brexit “sausage wars.”
But industry leaders said the two sides were no closer to a lasting deal and both were stuck in the same old negotiating positions.
“Three more months of the same standoff is not going to boost trader confidence or make anyone’s lives genuinely easier,” said Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, which represents businesses which move chilled and frozen food. “It’s depressing.”
The U.K. said the agreement was a positive first step and both sides said they wanted to reach a lasting solution.
“We still need to agree a permanent solution,” U.K. Brexit minister David Frost said in a written statement. “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.”
The EU doesn’t intend to continue with such extensions, said a European official, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. A permanent solution is the best way to guarantee predictability and stability to people and businesses in Northern Ireland, the official said.
The sale of chilled meats and fresh sausages into Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K. was set to be outlawed when a transition period to let companies adapt to the post-Brexit arrangement expired at the end of June.
Fishing, Market Access
The prospect of a sausage ban was due to terms which saw Northern Ireland -- unlike the rest of the U.K. -- remain under the EU’s customs and single market rules to avoid creating a visible border with the Irish Republic. The EU doesn’t allow chilled meats and fresh sausages into its single market for health and safety reasons.
Industry groups expressed disappointment that the U.K. and EU haven’t found a permanent solution on the issue, and also on the bigger problem of the customs checks that are due to start in October on food crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
“Nothing in these words hints at genuine progress towards a workable permanent solution to the barriers to trade,” Brennan said.
The agreement comes after a fraught six months in which the EU has brought legal action against the U.K. for unilaterally changing the terms of their post-Brexit accord. The two sides have also clashed over issues including fishing rights, market access for finance and the status of diplomats.
The extension will allow stakeholders, especially supermarkets in Northern Ireland, to complete supply chain adjustments, the official said.
The EU announced it’s ready to change its own legislation to ensure the free flow of medicines into Northern Ireland, exceptionally allowing some medical compliance checks to be located in Great Britain. A legislative proposal on the issue will be put forward in the fall.
Other concessions include measures for guide dogs and waiving the need for British motorists to show an insurance green card when driving in the EU.
The bloc also wants to use the extra three months to discuss arrangements related to sanitary and phytosanitary measures, with one possible objective doing away with 80% of checks.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.