New checks and red tape for trade across the Irish Sea – including a ban on the sale of chilled meats – will be delayed again, the government has said.
David Frost confirmed on Monday further extensions to post-Brexit “grace periods”, as he looks to secure concessions from Brussels on how the cross-border terms are operated.
In a written statement to parliament, the Brexit minister said London would be extending the current conditions to “provide space for potential further discussions” with the EU.
“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,” Lord Frost said.
“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.”
A government source said the EU had agreed to pushing back implementation of the new rules from the start of October – for the third time – saying: “So sausage wars are on hold.”
But the stopgap deal – which is set to continue indefinitely – will only kick the can down the road and does not mean the EU is ready to freeze the Northern Ireland protocol and end oversight by EU courts, as the UK has demanded.
The Irish government again insisted there is “no appetite” in EU capitals to rewrite the agreement, arguing solutions “can be found within the existing agreement”.
The further delay will avert the immediate threat of checks on goods of animal origin entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain and the significant new paperwork involved.
Most controversy surrounded the ban on chilled meats crossing the Irish Sea – the so-called “sausage wars” – which is also set to come into force from next month.
The latest delay is likely to require the UK to abide by Brussels’ food standards rules, but ministers insist that does not amount to the “dynamic alignment” it opposes.
The source declined to say whether the grace periods would be extended for as long as six months, but said it would push back the new rules “quite far”.
The two sides remain far apart, with the UK demanding a “permanent solution” to the crisis – while the EU insists the delays must be used to arrange for retailers to obtain meats from the Republic of Ireland.
A July “command paper” from the UK ramped-up tensions further, demanding the grace periods become permanent and a halt to EU legal action for non-implementation of the protocol.
Lord Frost also insisted the protocol “must no longer be policed by EU institutions and courts of justice” – the bedrock of the 2019 deal signed by Boris Johnson.
The grace periods were extended in both March and June, the second time with the agreement of Brussels, but only for three months.
Leo Varadkar, the Irish deputy prime minister, acknowledged the protocol was causing “real disruptions”, which the European Commission wanted to address.
But he told BBC News: “We don’t really see the case for renegotiating it so soon, we think most of the solutions can be found within the existing agreement.”
The protocol requires all goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland to follow EU regulations, creating a trade border in the Irish Sea.