To Cod Wars, Banana Wars, the Salt War, and the Pig War, add the Sausage War. Or burgers. Or whatever your favourite “chilled meat” is. Because that’s what English, Welsh and Scottish producers may not be able to sell to the remaining part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland. The veggie variety faces no such restriction, and one can almost hear the Linda McCartney’s marketing department gearing up a highly-topical campaign.
Yes, it’s the same Brexit NI discussion, Round 94. The UK wants to respect the Good Friday Agreement by not having a land border between the province and the Republic. The EU can’t accept entry into the single market of chilled meat from non-EU countries, which the UK now is. So, goods incoming to Northern Ireland need to be checked. The Northern Ireland Protocol allowed for grace periods so businesses could have more time to adapt to new arrangements, but these run out at the end of June. The two sides met this morning with added urgency given recent street violence in Northern Ireland at least partially in opposition to the EU Protocol.
There’s the matter of international agreements and whether and how a country keeps to them. The UK is considering unilaterally extending the grace period, as it has done before. Not following agreements may prove reputationally damaging, but most international actors would recognise the tight spot in which both camps find themselves. Environment Secretary George Eustice claims “they haven’t given a satisfactory explanation as to why they think it’s a problem”. The EU threatens trade war: tariffs, quotas, sanctions. Which means no sausages (a sausage war).
For the EU, of course, everything is existential, and not in the Paul Sartre sense. The core that runs through all its negotiation is that any undermining of the agreed foundations of the Union picks at a thread that will unravel the project completely. Whether that is true or not, it is one hell of a motivation. EU chief negotiator Maroš Šefčovič wants “concrete deadlines and milestones for the UK to fulfil its existing obligations”.
Oh, and the DUP has a brand-new leader in Edwin Poots, elected on a platform of opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol. Last week he said it “has to go”, and the Stormont ministers he appointed agree. The UK government will want a workable solution soon. The Twelfth is around the corner, with the hundreds of bonfires and possibilities for trouble that offers in the province. If the integrity of the UK is rocked significantly, it will be the predictable result of over-promising. The electorate is so far reluctant to punish this newly-wed over-promiser-in-chief who sits pretty with a poll lead of over ten points.