The Irish Times view on the Northern Ireland protocol: a truce in the sausage war

A welcome concession should take some heat out of the marching season

File photograph: iStock

File photograph: iStock

 

What we have is a brief ceasefire, not a permanent cessation. The “sausage war” has been put on hold for three months with the extension by the European Union of a further grace period until September 30th to allow uncooked meats to enter the North from Britain without checks. The welcome concession should take some heat out of the marching season.

Brussels will also take measures to allow for the movement of guide dogs, and motorists from the UK will not need to show insurance green cards when entering the EU. In the interim, EU commissioner for Brexit implementation Maros Sefcovic says the time should be used “in the most efficient manner to find a lasting solution... A continuous rolling over [of grace periods] does not give predictability to businesses in Northern Ireland”.

British chief negotiator David Frost was spinning the extension as a sign the EU is coming to its senses. He still insists on no-controls in perpetuity. “ Northern Ireland is an integral part of the UK and its consumers should be able to enjoy products they have bought from Great Britain for years,” he said.

New DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson is singing off the same hymn sheet. Describing the protocol as the “greatest threat to the economic integrity of the UK in any of our lifetimes”, he insisted “our goal is to remove the Irish Sea border and to preserve and protect the internal UK market”.

Of course there is no question that Northern consumers will not be able to continue enjoying British sausages, albeit at a slightly higher price and thoroughly vetted by customs and food safety staff. That will be the price they must eventually pay for the otherwise mutually contradictory twin imperatives of their government – Brexit and the maintenance of a border-free island of Ireland.

The EU’s determination to maintain the highest food and veterinary standards, born of the bitter experience of BSE, is not mere whimsy. The reason a grace period could be extended is precisely because the UK currently remains aligned to the high-standard EU regime, as it has not yet had the chance to water down its regulations. For the EU the issue remains not so much the current state of regulatory play, but the need to ensure “dynamic alignment”, to protect the single market when either the UK or the EU in future change their rules to move out of alignment.

Brussels and Dublin will note with relief Wednesday’s important decision of Belfast’s high court to dismiss a legal challenge from unionists to the protocol. It ruled that while the trading provisions do indeed conflict with the 1800 Act of Union, they are lawful because they were introduced by a parliamentary act that overrides previous legislation.

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