The implementation of full post-Brexit checks on goods crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will be delayed further to allow talks to continue between the UK Government and European Union.
Brexit minister Lord Frost confirmed on Monday that the Government will continue its “current basis” approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol as he looks to secure concessions from Brussels on how the cross-border terms are operated.
The announcement, which had been hinted at by Downing Street, commits to a further truce in the so-called “sausage war”, with another grace period rollover enacted to ensure there are no further blockages to trade across the Irish Sea next month.
EU rules prevent chilled meat products being imported into the single market and the terms of Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit arrangements mean following the bloc’s regulations.
Sausage shipments could have been halted when the current extension to the grace period expires at the end of September.
But Lord Frost, in a written statement to Parliament, said London would be extending the current conditions to “provide space for potential further discussions” with the EU over possible reforms to the protocol.
“The Government proposed to the EU on July 23 a ‘standstill’ arrangement to maintain the operation of the protocol on the current basis, and to pause current legal actions, to provide space for discussions on those proposals,” said Lord Frost, who negotiated Britain’s divorce from Brussels.
“The EU announced on July 27 that it was not, at that stage, moving to the next stage of the legal proceedings it started in March.
“There have since been initial technical talks between the UK and the EU.
“These will continue in order to determine whether a constructive process can be established for discussing and addressing the issues identified with the protocol.
“Following on from this, to provide space for potential further discussions, and to give certainty and stability to businesses while any such discussions proceed, the Government will continue to operate the protocol on the current basis.
“This includes the grace periods and easements currently in force.”
The protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, avoiding a hard border with Ireland at the extent of additional bureaucratic barriers for goods crossing from Great Britain.
Speaking before Lord Frost’s announcement, Ireland’s deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar said he expected an extension to the current grace periods.
“I think there is a high probability that it will happen, we are certainly open to it,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
Mr Varadkar said he expected the EU would agree to an extension in order to allow “deep and meaningful” talks about the protocol.
Brexit minister Lord Frost used a speech on Saturday to warn that difficulties over the deal risked creating “cold mistrust” with the European Union.
He has called for Brussels to accept a “substantial and significant change” to the arrangements.
A UK Government spokesman said: “Over the coming weeks, we will continue to talk to the EU to see if it is possible to make genuine and substantive progress on the proposals in our command paper on the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“In order to provide time and political space for these discussions, and to give business as much trading certainty as possible, we have announced today that we will maintain the existing arrangements for moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, including the current grace periods and easements.”