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Food Fight

An extract from our Brexit newsletter: A sausage war and a Poots putsch

Here is an extract from our Brexit newsletter this evening, revived to cover the grace-period row, and strained relations.

FROM THE LOFTY heights of international diplomacy, to the myriad global challenges the world faces – what threatened to disrupt Boris Johnson’s G7 summit last weekend was the very ordinary matter of sausages being sent from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Ahead of what was meant to be a glorious moment in the world-stage spotlight for a post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’, Johnson instead spent a significant portion of his time defending his approach to post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland.

Though the row includes all chilled meats, sausages became the epitome of how complicated things have become: a viral photo of DUP MP Sammy Wilson clutching a bunch of sausages in front of a Union Jack, while calling the Protocol “farcical”, may have captured the height of the food fight.

But the simple sausage is just a practical example of what is actually a complicated quirk of the post-Brexit trade deal, and the Northern Ireland Protocol contained within it.

Under EU rules, chilled processed meats such as sausages and minced meat cannot be imported to the EU from third countries – which the UK now is after Brexit.

But because Northern Ireland has slightly different post-Brexit rules than Great Britain, as per the Protocol that aims to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, there have been some problems with GB-to-NI trade, including on the trade of chilled meats.

At the start of the year, a six-month grace period was put in place that would mean this ban on chilled meats going from GB to NI would be postponed until July – meaning the North’s citizens could still buy British sausages.

But the UK is now requesting that this is extended for another three months until 30 September – and had threatened to take this action unilaterally.

At the G7 summit, after a strong public statement from US President Joe Biden, a fiery exchange with French President Emmanuel Macron, and a testy conversation with Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, Johnson was left bruised from the diplomatic ambush over Northern Ireland trade.

It was reported that the EU had hoped to bypass the dogged UK Brexit minister David Frost and come to an agreement on some of the biggest issues Brexit has caused in Northern Ireland. But in one meeting, Johnson is reported to have said that he is not the softer touch on this issue.

In a knee-jerk response, he threatened to do what it takes to keep sending British sausages to the North – but days later, the UK did in fact ask politely for the EU to grant an extension to waive those EU checks. Where things go from here is anyone’s guess.

The Poots putsch could derail Protocol progress

Speaking of guessing games, who could have predicted the resignation of Edwin Poots as leader of the DUP, just 21 days after taking the reins.

It all kicked off after a post-midnight deal with Sinn Féin and the DUP, when the UK government committed to passing Irish language laws in the autumn if the Stormont Assembly does not do so before then.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that the deal with the British Government was necessary to stop the DUP obstructing the Irish language act for the guts of the last 10 years, which could have resulted in Sinn Féin withdrawing their support from the Executive.

But the DUP beat them to it – after the Irish language act deal was done, members of the DUP began expressing their unhappiness that Poots had facilitated the deal.

The anger was so palpable that before the end of the day, Edwin Poots announced that he was resigning, and would stay in the role only until a new leader was elected.

The whole bitter row has left the Irish Government concerned that it could derail progress on the Protocol, with Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney warning that the threat of a snap election in the North could be a de facto referendum on the Northern Ireland Protocol – after it being in place for just six months – and divide the sides even further.

As Coveney said, this is the last thing Northern Ireland needs.

Read more about what’s next in the latest Brexit row over grace periods in our newsletter – you can sign up here.

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