Sausage fight: is the UK heading for a trade war with the EU?

Brussels to react ‘swiftly, firmly and resolutely’ if the UK continues to delay Northern Ireland border checks

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic
Maros Sefcovic, a European Commission vice-president, has warned the UK about its obligations
(Image credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The EU is said to be threatening a “sausage trade war” with the UK if it fails to comply with the “international law obligations” set out in the Brexit agreement 17 months ago.

The two sides “have become locked in an escalating row over trade rules for Northern Ireland”, reports the Financial Times.

Maros Sefcovic, a vice-president of the European Commission, and David Frost, the UK’s Brexit minister, will meet tomorrow in London to discuss the Northern Ireland protocol, which has led to “rising tensions in the region” as grace periods for the new rules are set to expire, says the newspaper.

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What is the row about?

In an effort to avoid checks along the Irish land border, which would breach the Good Friday Agreement, the Brexit deal kept Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods and created a trade border in the Irish Sea.

But, writing in the FT on Sunday, Frost admitted that the government had “underestimated” the effect this would have on goods movements, with “some suppliers in Great Britain simply not sending their products because of the time-consuming paperwork required”.

After the EU accused the UK of unilaterally deciding to delay some checks on products, Frost warned that there had already been “political turbulence” and street protests in Northern Ireland since implementing the Irish Sea border, and called on the EU to abandon “legal purism” and take a “common sense” approach.

What has this got to do with sausages?

“‘Europe threatens sausage trade war’ is not a plot line from Yes Minister,” said the BBC this morning. It is, in fact, the main story on The Daily Telegraph’s front page.

Sefcovic has written an article for the newspaper in which he warns that the EU will react “swiftly, firmly and resolutely” if the UK fails to meet the “international law obligations” it agreed to in 2019.

The Telegraph notes that the UK has “already unilaterally extended grace periods – on supermarket goods and parcels – earlier this year”, prompting legal action from the EU. Now, the newspaper understands that ministers are “considering, as a last resort, another unilateral extension for chilled meats, including sausages and mince” – the grace period for which ends on 30 June.

It quotes one Brussels official as saying the “EU’s patience is wearing thin”, and says the row could “ultimately lead to heavy tariffs on British exports and the suspension of parts of the trade agreement, which would demand a UK response”.

What next?

Frost and Sefcovic are set to thrash out the issue in person this week, with both men talking about resolving difficulties as “friendly” trading partners and rebuilding trust. However, The Telegraph says “there appears little hope of agreeing a deal that would keep sausage supplies flowing”.

Controls on animal food products entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain is “one of the thorniest problems” related to the NI protocol, explains The Guardian.

The EU has proposed that the UK align its animal produce rules with the bloc’s to avoid checks at Northern Ireland ports, but Frost has suggested that the UK is not willing to lose control over its own laws.

Meanwhile, under the headline “Bangers and clash!”, the Daily Mail says Sefcovic’s warning comes amid reports that US President Joe Biden “will use this week’s G7 summit to impress upon Mr Johnson the importance that he attaches to maintaining the protocol”.

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