Brexit: What is the Northern Ireland Protocol and why does it affect sausages?

Brexit: What is the Northern Ireland Protocol and why does it affect sausages?

Sausages from Great Britain could soon be banned from entering Northern Ireland.

The problem for bangers – along with burgers and other chilled meats – is a section of the Brexit deal called the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Because of Brexit, Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) no longer follows EU rules. However, Northern Ireland does – because it shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member.

Sausages come into this because EU food safety rules don’t allow chilled meat products to enter its market from non-members – like the UK.

The EU is concerned that if Great Britain sends sausages – or other items – to Northern Ireland, they could end up over the border, in Ireland.

However, under the Northern Ireland Protocol – which the UK government signed up to – this hasn’t been a problem so far. This is because a six-month grace period has been in place, during which the rules don’t apply.

However, this runs out at the end of June.

Talks on what happens next, as well as on other aspects of the protocol, will be held between the UK and EU on Wednesday 9 June.

UK Environment Secretary George Eustice told the BBC the EU needed to explain why sausage sales to Northern Ireland should stop.

“They haven’t given a satisfactory explanation as to why they think it’s a problem,” he said.

During Brexit negotiations, all sides agreed that protecting the Northern Ireland peace deal (the Good Friday agreement) was an absolute priority.

It meant keeping the land border between the Republic of Ireland (in the EU) and Northern Ireland (in the UK) open and avoiding new infrastructure like cameras and border posts.

That was easy when both Northern Ireland and the Republic were both part of the EU. However, a new arrangement was needed after Brexit because the EU requires certain goods to be inspected when they arrive from non-EU countries.

So, the EU and the UK negotiated the Northern Ireland Protocol, which came into force on 1 January 2021.

Under the protocol Northern Ireland continues to follow many EU rules. This means lorries can drive across the land border without being inspected.

However, England, Scotland and Wales are no longer following those rules – leading to a new “regulatory” border between GB and Northern Ireland.

That means new checks on goods.

Inspections take place at Northern Ireland ports, and customs documents have to be filled in.

This has prompted criticism that a border has effectively been created in the Irish Sea.

Some food products arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain – such as meat, milk, fish and eggs – have to be monitored to ensure they meet EU standards.

They need to go through a border control post, where paperwork is checked and some physical inspections take place.

The new system got off to a shaky start. The EU said in early February that the control posts were not yet fully operational and some goods were entering Northern Ireland without being properly declared.

Supermarkets were given an initial three-month grace period, during which the rules were not to be enforced. This was to give them time to adapt and to ensure supplies were maintained.

However, there was still some disruption at the beginning of the year with certain types of fresh produce missing from shelves.

In March, the UK decided – by itself – to extend the grace period until October. It subsequently announced further unilateral moves, to make the trade in parcels and plants from GB to Northern Ireland easier.

The EU has previously said the UK’s decision to extend the grace period breaks international law. And it has launched legal action which could end up with the European Court of Justice imposing substantial fines on the UK.

On a visit to Northern Ireland on 12 March, before the EU legal action was launched, Boris Johnson insisted that the government’s move was lawful.

Checks were temporarily suspended at the beginning of February, over what were described as “sinister” threats to some border staff checking goods.

Unionists are strongly opposed to the checks because they don’t want Northern Ireland to be treated differently to the rest of the UK. One group has written to the Prime Minister to withdraw support for the Good Friday agreement.

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