Boris Johnson on the campaign trail in 2019. PA Images
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UK press hypes 'sausage trade war' with EU over Northern Ireland checks on chilled meats

The EU has warned it will “react swiftly” if the UK acts unilaterally again in relation to the NI Protocol.

THE EU HAS warned the UK against further unilateral actions in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol, as the two sides row over what’s being termed as a potential “sausage trade war” in the UK press. 

The bloc has already launched legal proceedings against the UK for allegedly breaking the Northern Ireland Protocol by delaying custom controls on some goods arriving there from mainland Britain — England, Scotland and Wales.

In March, London decided to unilaterally extend a grace period that was given to supermarkets in Great Britain exporting agri-foods to Northern Ireland.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, EU vice-president Maros Sefcovic vowed Brussels would retaliate if the UK government took similar steps again, such as extending a grace period on checks on chilled meats due to end later this month.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former newspaper characterised the threat as a “sausage trade war”.

“If the UK takes further unilateral action over the coming weeks, the EU will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure that the UK abides by its international law obligations,” Sefcovic wrote.

Britain officially left the EU after nearly five decades of membership in January 2020, but under the terms of the divorce, relations remained unchanged until the start of this year.

Since then, London and Brussels have been trading on new terms, with the protocol effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the EU customs union and single market for goods.

The arrangement has been strongly criticised by unionist politicians in the north who have been pushing for the UK to over-rid the agreement. 

Sefcovic’s comments come ahead of crunch meetings in London tomorrow with Brexit minister David Frost, and follow weeks of sniping about the protocol.

Sefcovic said there had been “numerous and fundamental gaps” in Britain’s implementation of the special arrangements.

He countered claims by Johnson’s government that the bloc had failed to be sufficiently flexible, arguing in areas such as medicines it had allowed “tailor-made” solutions.

“Far from being inflexible, the EU has shown from the very beginning that we are willing to find creative solutions when required,” he said.

“But we cannot do this alone. It has to be a joint endeavour between the EU and the UK.”

Britain’s Environment Secretary George Eustice stressed today the protocol requires both sides to make “best endeavours” to ease any issues that the new rules are throwing up.

“What we really need the EU to do is to respect that part of the protocol and put in place sensible measures,” he told Sky News.

Eustice told LBC that the EU had been “slow to engage” with efforts to iron out difficulties ahead of the ending of a grace period which allows Northern Irish shops to continue selling chilled meats – including sausages and mince.

Eustice said on Tuesday he had “no idea” why the EU imposed “idiosyncratic” rules on the movement of chilled meats.

“I suspect it links to some kind of perception that they can’t really trust any country other than an EU country to make sausages,” he told LBC.

“I think that’s a nonsense. I think we’ve got a very good sausage industry in this country, we’ve got the highest standards of food hygiene in the world.”

© – AFP 2021 With reporting by Rónán Duffy and PA

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