Northern Ireland news

Middle ground approach could resolve protocol deadlock over food - Simon Coveney

The Republic's Minister for Foreign Affairs Trade Simon Coveney. Picture by Tom Honan/PA Wire

THE Irish Government has said “a middle ground” could be found to resolve the protocol deadlock between the EU and UK around food standards.

The Republic’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney raised the prospect of an independently monitored arrangement to oversee food safety.

Relations between the EU and UK remain frayed over the Irish protocol, with the clock ticking on the end of a grace period for chilled meats moving between Britain and Northern Ireland.

The end of the grace period on July 1 will prohibit the movement of certain meat products such as sausages and mince coming into the north from Britain.

Both Brussels and London have ramped up the rhetoric in recent weeks. The UK has threatened to unilaterally extend the grace period, while the EU has hinted at retaliatory sanctions following such a move.

The crucial stumbling block between the EU and UK surrounds the adherence to food standards. The UK wants an equivalence deal, whereby UK food standards are accepted as similar to EU ones.

The EU has rejected that, and pushed for a Swiss-style Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement, which would remove 80 per cent of checks, but would align the UK with EU rules.

The UK said tying itself to EU rules around food will prevent it doing new trade deals.

The Biden Administration has already removed one stumbling block for the UK, stating that a SPS deal would not act as a barrier to a new UK-US trade deal.

Speaking on RTE Radio One on Sunday, Simon Coveney hinted at a slight, but significant shift in the EU approach.

Talking up the need for flexibility and pragmatism, he said: “I think the challenge is to find a middle ground there that is perhaps independently monitored, whereby the UK sign up to maintaining a common approach towards food standards with the EU, but I know the UK Government has a problem with that being enforced by the ECJ.

“These are the kind of issues that we have got to try and find a way forward on politically.”

The prospect of an independent body overseeing EU food safety rules and in effect, the security of the Single Market, could also prove challenging for some in the EU camp.

It’s also unclear whether “a common approach” would involve something resembling the equivalence proffered by the UK, or alignment, preferred by the EU.

Simon Coveney said some progress had been made around medicines in respect of the protocol.

“The EU has put in place a proposal that can allow medicines to continue to be supplied from GB into Northern Ireland uninterrupted.

“There is a real effort to try and resolve political problems and practical problems on the ground, but the UK side must show flexibility.”

The foreign minister also echoed Taoiseach Micheál Martin yesterday, warning that any move by the UK to unilaterally extend the grace periods would be 'very problematic'.

“If they decide to unilaterally announce changes to the terms of how they are going to implement the protocol in Northern Ireland, that is going to be really problematic and is going to take this process backwards, not forwards,” said Mr Coveney.

“Unilateral action, when it comes to sensitive issues in Northern Ireland, never works.”

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