The EU will reportedly force the UK to agree to “conditions” as both sides edge towards a truce averting a so-called “sausage war” with a temporary extension to defer a ban on shipments of chilled meat.
An eleventh-hour agreement will come just hours ahead of the expiration of the grace period on 1 July, which would have prevented shipments of the products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
The prohibition of chilled meats, including mince and sausages, is one element of the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol, which erects economic trade barriers in the Irish Sea.
Upon signing the Brexit agreement in December, Boris Johnson’s government and the EU agreed the six month grace period, which was due to expire on Wednesday.
The new three month extension, however, is widely expected to be signed tomorrow and will enable the shipments of meat products to continue from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson said on Tuesday that No 10 expected a deal to avoid a ban on the shipments of sausages and other chilled meats would be reached “soon” on terms “acceptable to the UK”.
According to the Irish broadcaster RTE, the agreement will coincide with a unilateral declaration signing up to a number of conditions, including a commitment for the UK to continue aligning with EU food safety and animal health rules for another three months.
Mr Johnson’s government had previously threatened to unilaterally extend the grace period in a move which would have triggered swift retaliation from the EU for a breach of the Brexit agreement – leading to suggestions of a so-called “sausage war”.
The expected time-limited truce follows comments from the European Commission vice president, Maros Sefcovic, that a deal could be reached by Wednesday – the last possible date a solution could be found.
Speaking on Monday, Mr Sefcovic said the extra three months would enable negotiators from both the UK and the EU to find a more long-term solution.
He said he was confident an extension would be granted “that will address both sides’ needs and concern”, adding an “obvious” way to remove new checks and restrictions on a longer-term basis would be for the UK agree on an animal and plant standards deal that would see London align with Brussels.
Giving evidence virtually to a special sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Executive Office committee, Mr Sefcovic said the EU was prepared to accommodate flexibilities to reduce the number of checks in the Irish Sea to the “absolute minimum possible”.
However, the UK had to reciprocate by demonstrating a commitment to the “full and faithful” implementation of the Protocol, he said.
“We are willing to consider taking bold steps if the UK government demonstrates a clear and concrete commitment to implementing the protocol in full,” he said.
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