Why is there a war between the EU and the UK over sausages?
It has been dubbed the "sausage war" but the dispute between London and Brussels lies in the EU rules on food safety on the importation of a number of meat products into the bloc from non-EU countries. Britain is now considered "a third country" by the EU since Brexit and EU rules ban any chilled meat imports such as sausages, chicken nuggets, pies and mince that are not frozen from these countries. The EU and the UK agreed an initial six-month grace period on this ban. This was extended by three months this week in a deal aimed at easing tensions.
Why did the ban apply to Northern Ireland?
Under the terms of Britain's exit – specifically under the Northern Ireland protocol to create a trade border in the Irish Sea so it was avoided on the island of Ireland – Northern Ireland follows EU rules on product standards, including the ban on chilled meats from non-member countries. That means that freshly made, chilled bangers from Britain could not be sent to Northern Ireland.
Why did tensions arise?
The UK had warned that it would flout the rules if an extension on the grace period was not granted by the EU, despite the fact that it had agreed to the rules under the negotiated protocol. The EU has agreed both grace periods to allow supermarket chains in Northern Ireland to switch suppliers and buy alternative supplies of these goods locally or from the Republic.
Remind me, what is the protocol again?
It was the part of the Brexit deal agreed in October 2019 that meant all goods travelling to Northern Ireland from Britain fell under EU single market rules. This means EU customs rules are enforced at ports such as Belfast and Larne in the North and veterinary inspectors must apply EU sanitation rules and reject non-frozen meat imports from Britain and other non-EU countries.
Why must these rules apply?
The UK has broken with the EU on standards in plant and animal products, which means – in a technical term – sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks on plant and animal products. This involves documentary, identity and physical checks by vets. They are required because the EU wants to maintain food safety standards to prevent disease and banned chemicals being imported.
Do these checks apply in the Republic on goods arriving into the State from Britain?
Yes, they have since Brexit on January 1st. In the first 24 weeks of this year, Department of Agriculture inspectors carried out 27,918 checks on 24,481 consignments, mostly at Dublin Port, and rejected just 175 mostly because they were not accompanied by a health certificate.
How have the EU rules gone down in Northern Ireland?
Shortages of British products in Northern Ireland’s supermarkets have angered some in the Unionist-Loyalist community who see the protocol and EU rules as the first steps towards an economic united Ireland given that they will result in closer trading relations north and south.
Is there a long-term solution to be found?
To cool tensions, the EU is making it easier for medicines and guide dogs to cross the Irish Sea and will allow Northern Irish drivers to travel south of the Border with existing insurance policies. But bigger steps may be required to take the sizzle out of the sausage war such as Britain accepting a Swiss-style agreement with Brussels to align on food safety rules. This could, however, block the UK from agreeing of trade deals with other countries, a motive for Brexit in the first place.