Just before another Brexit deadline, the latest conflict between the European Union and the United Kingdom has been averted – for now. On Wednesday, Brussels and London announced that export restrictions on the movement of refrigerated meat will be suspended for a little longer. The ‘sausage war’ that threatened in recent weeks has thus been prevented, but because a permanent solution is far away, the deadline seems to be moving again by a few months.
The simmering conflict has to do with agreements made in October 2019 when the British left the EU. To prevent a ‘hard’ border on the island of Ireland, it was agreed that checks of goods would take place between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – thus creating a border within the United Kingdom itself.
That border is central to the ‘sausage conflict’. European food safety regulations require that all meat entering the EU must be frozen to prevent the import of diseases and spoiled meat. It means that the import of refrigerated meat such as sausages and minced meat from ‘third countries’ is prohibited. And so sausages are no longer allowed to be transported between Great Britain and Northern Ireland since Brexit.
Also read: London doesn’t even intend to stick to the Brexit agreements
In order to give companies the opportunity to adapt to the new regulations and to change supply chains, both parties agreed on a transition period of six months last December. However, ahead of the July 1 deadline, the UK has said it has no intention of complying with the rules. Secretary of State for the Environment George Eustice called the European demands on British radio “crazy”, Brexit minister David Frost spoke of “legal purism”.
After difficult talks in recent weeks, Brussels and London have now reached an agreement on extending the transition period. This means that the sausages can be transported between Great Britain and Northern Ireland until at least the end of September. Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič, responsible for relations with the UK, emphasized on Wednesday that the agreements were made in the interest of Northern Ireland. “It shows that while we continue to push for the full implementation of the agreements, we are also looking for creative solutions at the same time,” said Šefčovič.
Efforts will be made to find a permanent solution in the coming months. But it is not yet clear why this would work. “We do not intend to pile up transition periods, so these three months should be used wisely,” said an EU official.
In addition to meat transport, the EU and the UK agreed on another set of agreements on Wednesday, including the transport of medicines and guide dogs for the blind. It takes the sting out of the most threatening conflicts, but it does not in the least mean a sustainable peace agreement. The legal conflict over other border controls that the UK is refusing to implement is still lingering and could escalate in the near future. The fact that it took so much effort to just agree on a ‘armistice’ fuels the concern in Brussels that the British are not going to keep to the agreements made in the future. “We think we have gone a long way with this,” said an EU official. But whether that will simplify the negotiations in the near future is uncertain.