BRUSSELS – The great Brexit sausage fight is going into the freezer for the next three months.
The European Union and the United Kingdom agreed Wednesday not to let a fight over the transport of chilled meats from Britain to Northern Ireland sputter out of control for the moment and further damage already fraught relations, which have been fundamentally changed since the U.K. left the EU last year.
Instead, they delayed until the end of September some post-Brexit trade checks that were to go into effect on Thursday, including those on British sausages, giving London and Brussels extra leeway to find a compromise.
Without Wednesday's deal, the current system of chilled British meats going to Northern Ireland would have banned as part of the complicated EU-U.K. divorce deal that seeks to keep an open border on the island of Ireland, a key pillar of Northern Ireland’s peace process. But with an open border, the EU has insisted that trade checks must be imposed before British goods reach Northern Ireland so it can protect its single seamless market of 27 member states, which includes Ireland.
“We are pleased we have been able to agree a sensible extension on chilled meats moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland," British Cabinet Minister David Frost said.
Britain and the EU have been in a spat over post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. that borders the 27-nation bloc, for months, with London arguing that the terms of planned checks between Britain and Northern Ireland aren't realistic.
The EU's top post-Brexit official, Maroš Šefčovič warned, however, that with an additional grace period, “we are not issuing a blank check. The solution is of temporary nature in which strong conditions are attached, meaning the U.K. must fulfill political obligations.”
Over the past several months, Britain has unilaterally delayed implementing some of the checks, drawing the threat of legal action from the EU.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has seized on the potential sausage ban for the Northern Irish, brandishing it as a symbol of how unworkable the arrangements are. Even U.S. President Joe Biden has even been drawn into the spat during the Group of Seven summit in England earlier this month, raising concerns about the potential threat to Northern Ireland’s peace accord.