Post-Brexit control plans for some goods entering Northern Ireland have been suspended indefinitely by the UK after negotiations with the EU reached an impasse.
Grace periods designed to ease the transition to new trade deals and controls on the island of Ireland have been extended twice in diplomatic wrangles known as ‘sausage wars’.
On Monday evening, David Frost, who is leading negotiations with the EU on the update to the contentious Northern Ireland protocol, revealed a further extension, with no new deadline set for the talks to be completed.
A government source said the UK is keen to “create space for talks to unfold without looming deadlines” every three or six months. They added that they had been transparent with the EU about their decision and that the announcement was “coordinated, if not agreed”.
The source claimed that setting a new deadline in just a few months, with the current grace periods due to expire in October, “does not help foster a creative environment for the discussions” and therefore the protocol “will continue to work. as it is. now as long as there are talks ”.
While Brussels has withheld its formal move deal, the EU will refrain from taking legal action over the extension of the status quo, a spokesperson saying the European Commission “is not taking the next step in the move. infringement procedure launched in March 2021., and does not open any new infringements for the moment ”. Sources said a number of key EU leaders felt there was little to gain from facing Boris Johnson’s government.
The question was raised during recent talks between French President Emmanuel Macron and Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister. “The feeling is that the developments in Afghanistan have shown how important it is to have good relations with the UK and the intention is to spice things up,” a diplomatic source said.
Grace periods were intended as a way to ease the transition to new bureaucratic demands on the export of goods from Britain to Northern Ireland – including on foods like cold meats, which led to to the “sausage war” label.
In a written statement on Monday, Frost said that “to provide space for possible further discussions, and to give business certainty and stability while such discussions continue, the government will continue to apply the protocol on the current basis. “.
He added, “This includes grace periods and easements currently in effect… We will ensure that reasonable notice is provided in the event that these provisions change, to allow businesses and citizens to prepare. “
Frost and the taoiseach, Micheál Martin, met this weekend at a conference in Oxford where the issue was discussed. The Irish delegation to the conference reportedly recognized that it would be impossible to agree on new arrangements before September 30 and that an extension of the grace period was expected.
At the conference, Frost urged the EU to take the UK’s proposals seriously and said it seeks changes in three areas: the movement of goods to Northern Ireland, standards for goods in the region and the governance arrangements for this trade.
Also present at the meeting of the British Irish Association this weekend were Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Paul Givan, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michale Gove, Secretary of Ireland from North Brandon Lewis and EU officials.
Officials on both sides reportedly continued to engage in talks in August, but there has been no response from the EU to the UK command document released in July on the matter.
Sources on the UK side said their first objective was to determine and agree on the “scope” of the negotiations, which should include an agreement to trigger Article 13 of the protocol.