In the British vintage comedy series Yes, Minister, the hapless Jim Hacker becomes prime minister on the strength of a campaign against plans by the European Commission to introduce a “Euro sausage”.
That would mean the end of the gritty British banger, which the EU executive wants to designate as an “emulsified offal tube”. The Euro sausage plan is ultimately unmasked as a hoax – precisely the kind of euro-myth that Boris Johnson used to cook up when he was a Brussels correspondent – but not before Hacker gets into Downing Street.
Life has a habit of imitating comedy. Johnson’s Brexit deal, and the European Commission’s intransigence, could well lead to empty supermarket shelves in some places in the coming weeks.
The grace period for chilled meat products, after which customs checks will be required on exports, ends on 30 June. And because the Northern Ireland Protocol introduces customs checks on goods travelling from Britain to the island of Ireland, that means major disruption to supplies of sausages, bacon and minced meat.
In truth, this is more of a political battle than one over sausages. UK standards on meat production are the same as the EU’s and there is little chance that they will deviate significantly, if at all, in the future.
London insists on having the right to diverge from EU agrifood standards, even if it decides not to do so. It wants the Commission to use light touch border checks.
The UK was poorly prepared for life outside the single market. That partly explains why, unlike the Commission, the UK did not immediately impose customs checks on EU imports when the Trade and Cooperation Agreement came into force in January.
Indeed, grace periods on a range of different goods and products will expire at different times this year, meaning that the banger battle is unlikely to be echoed with other produce in the coming months.
Nor does the UK side appear to have been prepared for what the new customs checks would mean for Northern Ireland.
Having chosen to abandon “frictionless” trade by leaving the single market but agreeing to a Protocol that effectively keeps Northern Ireland inside it, Johnson and his Brexit minister, David Frost, should not be surprised that the province’s businesses and communities are complaining.
Johnson spent last year insisting, despite all evidence to the contrary, that they would not face new paperwork.
But the political consequences of the Protocol are real enough. The leader of Northern Ireland’s main Unionist party has been ousted, there has been rioting by loyalist groups, and all Unionist parties are campaigning to scrap the Protocol. That imperils the peace process and, like it or not, the EU, as a cosignatory, bears some responsibility.
For all the belligerent rhetoric from London and Brussels, the officials involved in the technical talks say that neither side will walk away. In this case, it would help both sides to take the politics out of bangers.
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Look out for…
- EUR- Lex signing digital COVID certificate with the President of Portugal, Mr António Costa and the President of the European Commission, Mrs Ursula von der Leyen followed by a joint statement of the three Presidents.
- Closing ceremony of High-Level Conference on migration and asylum with Portuguese parliament speaker Eduardo Luís Barreto Ferro Rodrigues.
Views are the author’s
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]