7 September 2021
Under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the UK Government should be carrying out Irish Sea border checks on food products heading for Northern Ireland to ensure that they meet EU standards.
Grace periods were put in place which have meant that traders have not been required to meet these obligations but the deadline for these ending was set as the end of September 2021.
This would mean that supermarkets, for example, would have to begin using export health certification for meat, dairy, fish and eggs going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Talks between the EU and UK on the Protocol largely stalled over the summer with Lord Frost, the UK negotiator, insisting that it must be redrafted while his opposite number from the European Commission said that was impossible as the Protocol is an integral part of the Withdrawal Agreement and has the status of an international treaty.
“It is also”, the Commission reminded the UK Government, “the agreed solution between the UK and the EU to the problems caused by Brexit for the island of Ireland.”
This week, Lord Frost announced that 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”.
In other words, it is extending the grace periods indefinitely and without the EU’s agreement.
The Commission responded that it remained prepared to identify long-term, flexible and practical solutions to address issues related to the practical implementation of the Protocol that citizens and businesses in Northern Ireland are experiencing.
However, it would not agree to a renegotiation of the Protocol and again emphasised that both sides are legally bound to fulfil their obligations under the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).
The Commission launched infringement proceedings against the UK in March 2021 for an earlier unilateral suspension of the grace periods but that action remains suspended for the moment.
Should the Commission decide to pursue this legal option, then the case could eventually reach the EU Court of Justice (CJEU).