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EU threatens sausage trade war

Supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland were left empty when food supplies were disrupted at the start of this year - Charles McQuillan/Getty Images Europe

Supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland were left empty when food supplies were disrupted at the start of this year – Charles McQuillan/Getty Images Europe

Brussels will start a trade war with Britain if Boris Johnson overrides the Brexit treaty so that Northern Irish shops can keep selling British sausages, a vice-president of the European Commission has warned.

In an article for The Telegraph – published below – Maros Sefcovic said the EU would react “swiftly, firmly and resolutely” if Britain unilaterally extended the grace period in the Northern Ireland Protocol, which expires at the end of June.

Britain has already unilaterally extended grace periods, on supermarket goods and parcels, earlier this year. The Telegraph understands that ministers are now considering, as a last resort, another unilateral extension for chilled meats including sausages and mince.

Any such action would enrage the EU, which hit the UK with legal action after the move on supermarket goods.

Under the grace period, chilled meats produced in the mainland can currently be sent to Northern Ireland. However, this will end on June 30, meaning sausages and mince produced in England could not be sold in the province.

Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Sefcovic, Lord Frost’s opposite number, said the bloc’s retaliation would be so crushing that it would ensure the UK “abides by its international law obligations”.

Ahead of UK-EU talks over the protocol in London on Wednesday, he accused Britain of failing to meet many of the commitments it had made to implement the treaty more than 17 months after it entered into force.

Maros Sefcovic rejected Lord Frost's accusation that the EU had been 'inflexible' over the protocol - Yves Herman/Pool via AP

Maros Sefcovic rejected Lord Frost’s accusation that the EU had been ‘inflexible’ over the protocol – Yves Herman/Pool via AP

He wrote: “If the UK takes further unilateral action over the coming weeks, the EU will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure that the UK abides by its international law obligations.”

Mr Sefcovic said the protocol was the “best solution” to “the type of Brexit that the current UK Government chose”, adding: “No one knows it better than Lord Frost himself, then the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator”.

He rejected Lord Frost’s accusation that the EU had been “inflexible” over the protocol and called on both sides to work together to rebuild lost trust.

EU officials said Brussels “was not afraid” to trigger additional Brexit treaty processes that could ultimately lead to heavy tariffs on British exports and the suspension of parts of the trade agreement, which would demand a UK response.

“The EU’s patience is wearing thin, and if this continues we will have to consider all the tools and all the options that are available to us,” an EU official warned. “If there’s to be a discussion on new extended or expanded flexibilities, then we believe the UK first needs to implement the protocol.”

Member states, led by France, were said to have increased the pressure on Mr Sefcovic to force Britain to fulfil its commitments. “The EU does not want to look like it is being made a fool of,” one source said.

In a call with Emmanuel Macron, the French president, ahead of the G7 meeting in Cornwall next week, Boris Johnson “stressed that both the UK and the EU have a responsibility to find solutions to address the issues with the protocol”, Downing Street said.

There is also frustration at Lord Frost, who is accused of stirring up Unionist anger against the protocol and has said it is “not working”. Angela Merkel, Mr Macron and Ursula von der Leyen could use the G7 meeting to press their concerns with Mr Johnson over the protocol and Lord Frost’s perceived confrontational style.

Joe Biden, the US president, is also expected to put pressure on the Prime Minister to respect the protocol when they meet, as well as urging the EU to be less “bureaucratic” over its implementation.

However, pushing back on Monday night, UK sources said there was “no world” in which the Government would accept a situation that meant British sausages could no longer be imported into Northern Ireland.

They also rejected suggestions that the UK had not lived up to its side of the deal, pointing out that traders were already submitting thousands of pages of paperwork required under the protocol.

And they warned that the “totemic” issue of banning chilled meats could stoke tensions at the start of the loyalist marching season in Northern Ireland, while also stressing that unilateral action would be a last resort.

One UK official said: “It is a difficult situation. You look at the current situation in Northern Ireland, in particular with the political calendar of Northern Ireland, it is coming up to marching season.

“It is not exactly coming at a good time to suddenly – at the start of July – happen and people can’t get supplies of chilled meat from Britain. Our focus at the moment is on getting something through the joint process, but the Prime Minister and Lord Frost have made clear that we keep all options under review.”

However, there appears little hope of agreeing a deal that would keep sausage supplies flowing. The UK has rejected EU demands that it dynamically aligns to the bloc’s animal health and food safety rules, which Brussels says would remove the need for 80 percent of Irish Sea customs checks.

Lord Frost is instead pushing for a deal based on equivalence – a mutual recognition of standards – which would loosely mirror the agreement the EU has with New Zealand. That has already been ruled out by the commission.

Brussels dismisses UK arguments that following the EU rules will tie Britain’s hands in trade negotiations with other countries. It has told British negotiators to agree to a temporary dynamic alignment deal instead.

But ministers fear dynamic alignment, which was rejected in the Brexit negotiations, would set a precedent shackling the UK to the Brussels rule-makers.

The UK has also accused the EU of failing to engage with its own proposals, with one source saying on Monday night: “For months we’ve heard the EU talk about being flexible and the importance of a joint process, yet their words aren’t being matched by action.

“We’ve sent the EU numerous proposals to address the many issues people are facing as a result of the protocol while getting virtually nothing back. If the EU are serious about helping Northern Ireland, then they need to start putting concrete proposals on the table instead of just briefing empty words.”

Brussels is preparing to set out concessions at Tuesday’s meeting, which officials said proved the EU could be flexible within the protocol, which Brussels refuses to renegotiate.

These include a proposal removing Brexit barriers to the supply of medicines to Northern Ireland, which it hopes will be seen as an olive branch. A grace period for medicines is due to expire at the end of the year.

However, the UK claims it has still not been given access to these proposals, despite Lord Frost publicly requesting them.

Brussels will also present a paper on tariff rate quota on steel for Northern Irish businesses, measures on VAT to ensure affordable second hand cars in the country and exceptions to pet travel rules for guide dogs going from Britain to Northern Ireland.

In return, Britain will set out a timeline for granting EU officials access to UK customs databases and an interim IT solution, which will give data on GB-NI trade flows to the EU.

The EU will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely

The prolific English hymn composer Isaac Watts once said: “Learning to trust is one of life’s most difficult tasks.” And yet it is also one of the most important tasks when it comes to building a productive, enduring and mutually beneficial partnership, writes Maros Sefcovic.

As I travel to London on Tuesday, it is clear that this week will be a defining one for consolidating trust between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Together with Lord Frost, we will launch the work of the Joint Partnership Council on the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement – beneficial for all our citizens and businesses, while establishing a level playing field and effective governance to enforce it.

We will also chair the Joint Committee on the Withdrawal Agreement, which will see us address outstanding issues linked to the implementation of the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. Here, I arrive with three clear messages.

My colleagues and I in the EU have a strong commitment to the people of Northern Ireland to ensure that the peace, stability and prosperity that they have enjoyed over the last 20 years are maintained.

This commitment is long-standing and runs deep in the European Union, which is at heart a peace project itself.

The protocol is the best solution to the unique situation of the island of Ireland following Brexit – and specifically to the challenges created by the type of Brexit that the current UK Government chose. The protocol is the only solution we found to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its parts.

Through countless hours of intense, line-by-line negotiation, we managed to do what at times seemed impossible – to protect the hard-earned gains of the peace process and maintain an invisible border on the island of Ireland. No one knows it better than Lord Frost himself, then the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator.

The agreement on the protocol also marks the first time that the EU has entrusted the control of its economic border to an outside partner, a risk that we and our EU member states were willing to take in the interests of protecting stability in Northern Ireland.

However, to realise the benefits of the protocol we must make tangible progress on its implementation – and that is my second message.

The entire EU team and I have been working hard to find ways to ensure that the protocol is implemented in a way that both facilitates the everyday life of Northern Ireland’s communities and preserves the integrity of the EU’s Single Market.

But we cannot do this alone. It has to be a joint endeavour between the EU and the UK.

Far from being inflexible, the EU has shown from the very beginning that we are willing to find creative solutions when required. The continued availability of medicines to Northern Ireland is among those tailor-made flexible solutions – something I personally take very seriously in this time of pandemic.

I hope to see that same commitment to the protocol and perseverance with its implementation from the UK Government when we meet in London.

Unfortunately, we see numerous and fundamental gaps in the UK’s implementation – even though the protocol entered into force over 17 months ago.

Mutually agreed compliance paths, with concrete deadlines and milestones for the UK to fulfil its existing obligations, would therefore be an important stepping stone – and, I believe, a credible outcome of this joint committee. If this does not happen, and if the UK takes further unilateral action over the coming weeks, the EU will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure that the UK abides by its international law obligations.

I also believe – and that is my third message – that at its heart, the protocol represents an opportunity for Northern Ireland. It offers unparalleled access to two markets, representing more than 500 million consumers with strong purchasing power. This can provide a powerful incentive to attract investment from overseas.

It is no wonder that Invest NI has already identified over 30 potential inward investment opportunities since the beginning of this year.

To succeed, however, and to ensure stability and predictability, we need to see politics that unites rather than divides – and the EU stands firmly by this approach.

I really appreciated speaking to businesses and civil society in Northern Ireland in February and earlier this week. To listen to their experience of the protocol is invaluable. And it was this outreach that prompted me to propose to the United Kingdom an SPS agreement, aligning with the EU’s food safety and animal health rules, even temporarily, in order to do away with the vast majority of the checks on the Irish Sea.

The EU has been – and remains – a devoted friend of Northern Ireland. We will continue to offer our help and support, including through the PEACE programme, in which over a billion euros have been invested into excellent initiatives right across Northern Ireland.

This support will not end because of Brexit. The EU has already committed to continuing this programme, together with the UK.

I remain convinced that for the EU and the UK, there is far more that unites us than divides us. With so much in common, we should not waste time turning the tables and washing our hands of an agreement that we shaped, agreed and signed jointly. To further grow our relationship, we should seek to strengthen our win-win cooperation.

We should work hand-in-hand – singing from the same hymn sheet, if you will – with great resolve to write a new chapter in EU-UK relations based on trust. In a world where democracy increasingly finds itself under pressure from many sides, I believe it is our obligation, as partners sharing the same values, to do precisely that.

Maros Sefcovic is a vice-president of the European Commission

Source

https://livetvable.com/

By Ashik

My Website: https://livetvable.com/