EU suggests deal could be struck on Brexit ‘sausage wars’ in next 48 hours

Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president, has suggested a deal to address the Brexit ‘sausage wars’ could be struck in the next 48 hours.

Mr Sefcovic hinted that an announcement that the EU would agree to the UK’s request to extend the current ‘grace period’ on checks on chilled meats coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of Britain was imminent.

He told Northern Irish politicians that he was in discussions with members states about an extension.

While he could make no announcement today, he said: “I remain confident we can find a solution in the next 48 hours that can address both sides’ concerns”.

That would give negotiators an extra three months to find a more long-term solution, he suggested.

The UK had warned that time was running out to reach a deal on the issue, part of the controversial Northern Irish protocol, which local politicians have claimed is jeopardising peace in Northern Ireland.

Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal is deeply unpopular with many unionists in Northern Ireland. They warn that in a bod to avoid a border on the island of Ireland, the protocol has created a border within the UK instead.

The end of a ‘grace period’ for trade in products including mince from the rest of the UK into Northern Ireland at the end of this month had led to suggestions of a “sausage war” with the EU.

Giving evidence virtually to a special sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Executive Office committee, Mr Sefcovic said the EU was prepared to accommodate flexibilities to reduce the number of checks in the Irish Sea to the “absolute minimum possible”.

However, the UK had to reciprocate by demonstrating a commitment to the “full and faithful” implementation of the Protocol, he said.

“We are willing to consider taking bold steps if the UK Government demonstrates a clear and concrete commitment to implementing the protocol in full,” he said.

He added: “To mention one measure that would address some concerns and could be negotiated very quickly – a so-called Swiss style veterinarian agreement with the UK continuing to apply EU SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) rules will do away with the vast majority of the checks in the Irish Sea and would not require checks elsewhere, say in Northern Ireland, including for travels with pets, for example.”

He told the members of the committee that the protocol had emerged from the Brexit negotiations as the “only possible solution” to prevent an Irish land border.

“Nobody has yet suggested a better workable alternative,” he said.

He also rejected claims from UK politicians that the EU had not been flexible enough on the issue. “Our approach has been, and still is, solution-oriented, constructive and flexible, “ he said.

“The Protocol is a unique solution that the EU has never offered before. We are outsourcing the control of part of our border to a third country.

“The EU has demonstrated the pragmatism we are occasionally and wrongly accused of lacking. We have spared no efforts in trying to mitigate problems that have arisen in the implementation of the protocol and have explored and put on the table practical and permanent solutions.”

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