Government announces extension to NI Protocol grace periods to provide 'space' for autumn talks

Tue 7 Sept 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

Brexit Talks

The government has extended grace periods for trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland while talks continue with the EU over a more lasting solution to the issues posed by the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Lord Frost, who oversees the UK’s relationship with the EU, said in a written statement that the government would “continue to operate the Protocol on the current basis. This includes the grace periods and easements currently in force.”

A ‘standstill’ arrangement had been mooted by the government in its July Command Paper, which set out its proposals for the future implementation of the Protocol.

The statement said this pause would “provide space for potential further discussions, and to give certainty and stability to businesses while any such discussions proceed”.

Export Health Certificates

British businesses sending products of animal origin to Northern Ireland were set to face new paperwork requirements and checks from 1 October, when the grace periods were due to expire, reports Politics Home.

Goods including meat, dairy, fish and eggs have would have required vet-issued Export Health Certificates (EHCs).

At this point, chilled meats from GB – including fresh sausages – would also not have been permitted into Northern Ireland.

Retailers including Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury’s have said the additional red tape would have led them to delist products from Northern Irish stores.

Third grace

This is the third time the UK and EU have agreed to suspend these checks.

As previously covered in the IOE&IT Daily Update, the government unilaterally suspended grace periods for NI supermarkets in March earlier this year.

This led to the EU launching legal action against Britain for breach of the Northern Ireland Protocol, part of the Withdrawal Agreement it agreed with the EU in 2019.

In June, the UK and EU agreed an extension of the grace periods to cool the so-called ‘sausage wars’ which would have seen a ban on chilled meats being allowed into NI from Britain.

Breathing space

It is hoped that the open-ended extension will give Britain and the EU time and space to find a lasting solution. However, both sides have differing views of the way ahead.

The FT reports that in a speech last weekend to the British-Irish Association, Lord Frost repeated that the UK was seeking a fundamental rewriting of the Protocol. By contrast, the EU has been equally consistent that it would not rewrite the agreement.

In a statement, the European Commission said it will not agree to a renegotiation and its focus was on “identifying long-term, flexible and practical solutions to address issues related to the practical implementation of the Protocol that citizens and businesses in Northern Ireland are experiencing”.

EU response

A government source told the Guardian that the UK wanted to “create space for talks to happen without deadlines looming”.

They added they had been transparent with the EU about their decision and the announcement was “coordinated, if not agreed upon”.

Although Brussels withheld formal agreement on the move, it will not launch legal proceedings over the extension.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, who is Lord Frost’s counterpart in Brussels, is expected to respond to the UK announcement while visiting Northern Ireland on Friday.