The European Union agreed on Wednesday to a ceasefire with Britain in a post-Brexit dispute dubbed the “sausage war” by extending a grace period for shipments of certain meat products from mainland United Kingdom to Northern Ireland.
The bloc will also make it easier for medicines and guide dogs to cross the Irish Sea and allow Northern Irish drivers to travel to Ireland with existing insurance documents, in moves designed to ease tensions following Britain’s exit from the EU.
“Where the U.K. disrespects its agreements with us and acts unilaterally, we will be tough,” an EU official said. “And of course it’s possible to have good news stories when it comes to U.K.-EU relations.”
The grace period on “chilled meat products” was due to end on July 1, when British non-frozen sausages or mince would not have been able to cross the Irish Sea because of an EU ban on such products from third countries, which now include Britain.
London called for three more months to allow the two sides to resolve the trade difficulties over Northern Ireland, which has faced disruption since Britain completed its exit from the EU at the end of 2020.
The trading arrangement is governed by the Northern Ireland protocol, which has needed to find a delicate balance of keeping open the province’s border with EU member state Ireland to protect the 1998 Good Friday peace deal, while stopping goods entering the EU’s single market across that frontier.
The protocol keeps Northern Ireland inside the single market for goods, but this requires checks and controls on goods crossing the Irish Sea from mainland Britain.
The disruption to the delivery of some products has angered some pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland and there are fears it could fuel violence during “marching season” parades in July.
The Commission says the three months should be final and used for supermarkets to establish different supplies of meat products or for Britain to accept an EU proposal to maintain aligned food safety standards. Brussels says this would remove 80% of checks.
London has said a key part of Brexit was not to be bound to EU rules.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop Editing by John Chalmers, William Maclean)