No decision on NI grace period extension but 'new operational plan' the 'same thing by another name'

Thu 25 Feb 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

irish sea border

The UK and EU are continuing to assess what further arrangements could ease trade friction in Northern Ireland but failed to reach an agreement yesterday (24 February) at the first official meeting of the body overseeing the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove met with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic under the auspices of the EU-UK Joint Committee to examine UK demands to extend the ongoing grace period for checks on agrifoods trade involving major supermarkets.

Politico reports that while both sides “acknowledged the importance of joint action to make the Protocol work for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland”, no extension was agreed to.

New plan

However, a joint statement following the meeting spoke of a determination to use, “without delay”, flexibilities in the NI Protocol agreed in a December meeting.

London was said to have offered up a “new operational plan” to help supermarkets and their suppliers, as well as promising additional funding to develop “digital solutions for traders.”

A UK government statement said that a further Joint Committee would be held soon to discuss these solutions further and to ensure further guidance can be given to traders.

Grace by another name

BBC Northern Ireland correspondent John Campbell tweeted that the so-called “new operational plan” was “a grace period by another name”.

RTE Europe correspondent, Tony Connelly also tweeted a detailed summary of the “heavy” 90-minute Joint Committee session, which featured input from DUP leader Arlene Foster.

According to his report, the UK is pressing for a three-month grace period on export health certificates, and a six-month period suspending the ban on products such as sausages and mince.

Traceability

London is also putting forward a plan for enhanced traceability at supermarkets and retailers that would approximate EU standards.

Extending the grace period until the end of the year would give enough time for the system to be developed, the UK said.

However, the EU wants to see more detail, according to Connelly.