The UK has asked the EU to suspend an imminent ban on the sale of British sausages and other restricted chilled meats in Northern Ireland.
Lord Frost, appearing before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) today (16 June), said delaying the rule changes would give both sides “breathing space” to negotiate a solution to the trade friction that has resulted from the Northern Ireland Protocol.
He also claimed that a postponement would avoid the possibility of a trade war between the UK and EU, after reports last week that the EU could impose tariffs on UK sausages.
Frost told MPs the Protocol had caused a “chilling effect” on trade across the Irish Sea, with British companies saying they “can’t be bothered” to sell in Northern Ireland.
Solution still needed
On 1 July 2021, the grace period for the sale of imported chilled meat products in Northern Ireland will come to an end.
The UK and EU held negotiations last week to avoid the ban and to find ways to reduce the number of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks on goods entering the region.
However, these talks failed, leading to tensions between London and Brussels which at points dominated last weekend’s G7 summit.
Although Frost told the committee that there was some progress in the talks, he also said that the UK had not had a lot of feedback on the possible solutions it had proposed to the EU.
“We haven’t had a lot of traction,” he is quoted as saying in the Guardian.
The EU has also proposed its own solutions to the UK, including a veterinary agreement based on a similar deal it has with Switzerland.
The prime minister Boris Johnson also today repeated his threat to suspend parts of the “totally disproportionate” Northern Ireland Protocol.
Answering a question from the DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Johnson said that unless the UK “sees progress” in ongoing talks with the EU, it “will have to take the necessary steps”, reports the BBC.
The Democratic Unionist Party is currently challenging the Protocol in the courts on the grounds that it undermines the constitutional integrity of the UK.
However, Lord Frost told the NIAC this was not the case and “that the Protocol is 100% clear that nothing in it affects the territorial integrity”.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney tweeted agreement that the Protocol was not a constitutional matter, saying: “[I] don’t know how many times this needs to be said before it’s fully accepted as true. The NI Protocol is a technical trading arrangement to manage the disruption of Brexit for the island of Ireland to the greatest extent possible”.