Politics

EU draws up plans to end food blockade threat ‘within days’ after sparking Boris fury

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European Commission officials will include Britain to a list of countries that can export food and agricultural products to the bloc once new legislation is revealed. It comes after eurocrats warned firms could be blocked from sending British cheese, lamb and beef into Northern Ireland after the end of the post-Brexit transition period. They told industry chiefs the ban was unavoidable unless the Government published its plans for food and plant safety by the end of October.

But after accusations of foul play in the bitter wrangling over a Brexit trade deal, EU officials have laid the groundwork to have the UK included on its “third country” list “within days”, according to a Brussels source.

The source added: “We listed them within a matter of days during the no deal era when they provided us with the relevant guarantees.”

When last year’s divorce talks were on the brink of collapse, former prime minister Theresa May submitted Britain’s plans to ensure the country could be added to the EU list.

But the UK was subsequently removed upon completion of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Now, the Commission has told No 10 it must publish draft legislation containing guarantees to uphold high standards for animal health, welfare, plant health and plant protection before they complete the process.

Lord Frost, the Prime Minister’s Brexit envoy, last week told EU counterpart Michel Barnier the Government intends to maintain gold-plated standards after freeing the UK from the bloc’s red tape.

Downing Street is planning on publishing a draft food safety bill next month in order to transpose Withdrawal Agreement commitments on animal and plant health into UK law.

A UK spokesman said: “The Official Controls Regulation is already retained in UK law under the Withdrawal Act.

“The legislation we will be laying in October will make the OCR operable in UK law at the end of the transition period.

“The UK is committed to maintain the highest animal welfare and biosecurity standards. Our future rules will reflect this commitment.”

Once the legislation is published, Brussels officials will review the details before accepting Britain onto its list of accepted export nations, which also includes Iran, Afghanistan and Venezuela.

A European Commission spokesman said: “We are still waiting on comprehensive information on what the UK’s future rules will be, in particular for imports, after December 31 and when these rules will be adopted.

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“The UK has informed us that they will transpose the EU Official Control Regulation, as well as legislation on animal health and public health, with modifications. We are waiting for this legislation to be put forward.”

Industry leaders have said an EU ban on food exports would have a devastating impact on British farmers and citizens, as well as animal welfare.

Nick Von Westenholz, of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “Even for a short period this could be devastating and with catastrophic implications for UK farmers.

“It is disappointing that the issue now appears to be being politicised.”

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David Bowles, of the RSPCA, said: “No access to the SPS area is no deal Brexit on steroids.

“The consequences include slowing down the process for anyone wishing to take their pets on holiday and increased border checks at EU borders resulting in welfare problems for farm animals and race horses caught up in long queues.”

Lord Frost will continue informal trade negotiations with Mr Barnier this week in Brussels as the process reaches a critical stage.

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