On Thursday, the UK’s Brexit minister David Frost formally asked the EU for a three-month extension to a grace period for chilled meat exports from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, which is due to expire at the end of June.
The move is designed to avert a ban on British chilled meats entering Northern Ireland, which, unlike the rest of the UK, remains in the EU’s single market for goods after Britain left the trading bloc last year.
The commission acknowledged the UK’s request to extend the grace period from June 30 to September 30, while saying it wanted to find a solution to Britain’s alleged failures in implementing the protocol governing trade with Northern Ireland after Brexit.
“For that to happen, the UK must fully implement the Protocol,” the commission said in a statement, adding that there is “no alternative” to that part of the Brexit agreement.
Under the protocol, strict phytosanitary checks must be conducted at the Northern Irish border on fresh food imports from Britain.
This requirement was designed to protect the EU’s single market and at the same time avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is still a full EU member state.
Britain has complained that the extra red tape on its exports has created chaos for Northern Irish supply chains, with supermarkets in the country experiencing shortages of some products earlier this year.
In response to the stringent checks, the UK government unilaterally extended grace periods for some products earlier this year, a move that drew legal action from the EU.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has since signalled that he is open to a similar extension for the chilled meats grace period.
In response, Frost’s opposite number, EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, has warned that the EU will react to ensure “that the UK abides by its international law obligations.”
Frost said that “good progress” has been made in talks with his EU counterpart, but said the proposal to extend the grace period has so far had “very little traction” from Brussels.