Lord Frost says EU relations remain 'a bit bumpy' as UK offers four-phase plan on NI food checks

Mon 17 May 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

lord frost

Lord Frost has told MPs that the UK’s relationship with the EU will continue to be “a bit bumpy” and there is “a lot of business to be done” to resolve issues around the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking to the European Scrutiny Committee today (17 May), the minister for EU relations admitted there was an “unsettledness” in the region.

“Our assessment of the situation, or my assessment anyway, is that businesses and a good proportion of society in Northern Ireland feel anxious about the effects of the boundary – the trade boundary – between Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” he said.

UK offer

However, he also said that there was a “bit of momentum” in the talks to resolve issues around the implementation of the new trade rules.

He was speaking at the same time as the BBC reported this afternoon that the UK has made an offer to the EU to phase in checks on food and plant products crossing the Irish Sea.

A document sketching out a four-stage plan, seen by the BBC, suggests that checks on fresh meat products will be introduced in October, with further checks on dairy products, plants and wine introduced in January.

Checks on fruits and vegetable marketing standards, pet foods, organics and composite products would be introduced in two further stages next year.

Change needed

Writing in the Mail on Sunday yesterday (16 May) Frost had already warned Brussels that it needed to “rapidly” rethink its approach to post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland, saying it needed to be less “purist” in its approach.

Under the Protocol, firms sending goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are required to complete import declarations, with many agrifood products required to satisfy further sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls.

However, the UK in March unilaterally extended grace periods in which certification requirements for agrifoods and declarations for parcel movements were suspended.

The EU then launched legal proceedings against the UK, alleging London of breaching the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.

'Risk that does not exist'

Frost argued that sanitary and phytosanitary controls are usually imposed by the EU on markets with lower standards on areas such as food sanitation.

He said that such risks do not need to be addressed for trade between Britain and Northern Ireland.

“There is no evidence that goods not meeting EU standards are getting into the EU's single market via Northern Ireland,” he wrote. “All this paperwork and checks – to deal with a risk that does not exist”.

Warmer on non-EU opportunities

On the UK’s post-Brexit opportunities beyond the EU, Lord Frost was more upbeat, pointing to the government’s success in rolling over most of the agreements the country had benefitted from as a member of the EU.

“I’m quite optimistic about what we can do this year. We’re close on one or two agreements and we have signalled that we want to be part of the CPTPP,” he told the committee today.