‘Urgent solution’ needed over ‘sausage war’ trade dispute, Lewis tells MPs
An urgent solution is required to ensure Northern Ireland shoppers continue to enjoy chilled meat products from Great Britain, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has said.
During Northern Ireland questions in the Commons, the minister faced repeated questions about the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The UK Government and the EU are locked in a dispute over the implementation of the protocol, the part of the Brexit divorce deal aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland.
Under the terms of the deal, deliveries of chilled meats – including sausages and burgers – could be effectively banned from crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland at the end of the month.
The UK is considering unilaterally extending the grace period covering sausage shipments, something that Brussels has warned could trigger a retaliation.
DUP Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said it would be wrong for the EU to impose a ban on the sale of chilled meats, including sausages, from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
He asked: “What action does he intend to take to prevent this from happening?”
Mr Lewis replied: “Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and its consumers should be able to enjoy the products that they have bought from Great Britain for years.
“Any ban on chilled meats would in fact be contrary to the aims of the protocol itself and be against the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.
“So an urgent solution must be found so that Northern Ireland consumers can continue to enjoy the products and chilled meat products that they’ve bought from Great Britain.”
He added: “We have proposed some options for either extending the grace period or putting permanent arrangements in place.
“We’re working hard to try and resolve these issues consensually with our partners, but – as the PM has always made clear – we will consider all our options in meeting our responsibility to sustain peace and prosperity for the people in and of Northern Ireland.”
Referring to the G7 summit of world leaders at the weekend, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh said: “It was an extraordinary diplomatic failure for the Prime Minister to spend a crucial summit on home soil being rebuked by our closest allies.
“Northern Ireland doesn’t have any more time for bickering or blame games, so isn’t it time to get serious and commit to a veterinary agreement that would eliminate the vast majority of checks down the middle of our Union?”
Mr Lewis said Ms Haigh’s reading of the G7 summit is “different” from his, adding that the UK’s partners – particularly the United States – are “very much in the same place as us” on protecting and delivering on the Good Friday Agreement.
He added: “We have put forward a number of proposals – more than a dozen I believe – to the European Commission around how we can deliver on the protocol in a pragmatic, flexible way that delivers for the people and the businesses in Northern Ireland, and we look forward to continuing those discussions with the EU.
“When the EU talks about flexibility and pragmatism, they have to show it as well as talk about it.”