Brexit: Expert says NI protocol feud may lead to meat shortages
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Irish officials feel as if the EU is preparing to punish them for the UK’s decision to leave the bloc after it was reported EU officials are discussing restricting Ireland’s access to the bloc’s single market. Brussels and the UK have been locking horns over the Brexit Northern Ireland protocol, which Britain is refusing to implement as it claims it jeopardises trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
As Brussels fails to come to an agreement with Boris Johnson’s Government, EU officials told Politico some in the bloc are prepared to tell Ireland to implement its no-deal Brexit contingency plans.
The plan would see Ireland’s access to the internal market restricted so that goods coming into the EU from the UK via Ireland could be checked in the member state rather than at the border with the UK.
But the plan is causing a lot of anxiety in Ireland.
One EU diplomat told Politico: “That is why they [the Irish] are so worried, because they know they might have to pay the price.
“Nobody is willing to say this is going to have consequences for Ireland directly yet, but it is a bit sous-entendu [implied].”
Some in the bloc are starting to believe that it might be the only solution to the Brexit impasse.
But such a solution would see Ireland being effectively treated by the EU like a third country on goods.
Another EU official said: “Goods arriving from Ireland [into the EU] would be checked as if they were coming from a third country.”
Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, a lobby group for Northern Irish manufacturing firms, told Politico that Irish officials are yet to come up with a better solution.
But he warned: “Checks would destroy pretty much all the [Irish] ministers who had to implement them, and it would finish the government.
“That’s a doomsday scenario in terms of Ireland. And for some of those types of scenarios you don’t build a contingency because they’re just so extreme and so beyond what you would accept that you just don’t plan for that.”
Brexit minister Lord Frost is urging the EU to show “pragmatism and common sense” in resolving continuing differences over the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement in Northern Ireland.
Ahead of talks in London on Wednesday, Lord Frost said threats from Brussels of trade wars and legal action would not help people and businesses in Northern Ireland struggling with the “damaging impact” the agreement was having on the ground.
His appeal came after European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said the EU would act “swiftly, firmly and resolutely” if the UK tried to backtrack on its obligations under the Northern Ireland Protocol in the agreement.
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It came amid reports Britain is ready to act unilaterally to delay imposition of checks on chilled meats such as sausages and chicken nuggets coming to Northern Ireland from Great Britain when the current “grace period” expires at the end of June.
In a statement ahead of his meeting with Mr Sefcovic, Lord Frost said time was running out to find the “practical solutions” that were needed to enable the protocol to work as it was intended to.
He said the “overriding priority” for both sides must be the preservation of the Northern Ireland peace process and he called on the EU to show the “flexibility” required to achieve the results which “enjoy the confidence of all communities”.
“Businesses in Great Britain are choosing not to sell their goods into Northern Ireland because of burdensome paperwork, medicine manufacturers are threatening to cut vital supplies, and chilled meats from British farmers destined for the Northern Ireland market are at risk of being banned entirely,” he said.
“Further threats of legal action and trade retaliation from the EU won’t make life any easier for the shopper in Strabane who can’t buy their favourite product. Nor will it benefit the small business in Ballymena struggling to source produce from their supplier in Birmingham.
“What is needed is pragmatism and common sense solutions to resolve the issues as they are before us. This work is important. And it is ever more urgent.
“It is only by making substantial progress across the whole range of difficulties that we can show people in Northern Ireland that the protocol can work in a pragmatic, proportionate and sustainable way – as was always intended.”
Earlier, Downing Street insisted there could be no justification for preventing chilled meats from the rest of the UK being sold in Northern Irish shops, while Environment Secretary George Eustice said the suggestion was “bonkers”.
It came after Mr Sefcovic raised the prospect of a trade war – with Brussels imposing tariffs and quotas on British exports – if the UK failed to meet its international obligations under the protocol.
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