UK proposes customs checks for food heading to Northern Ireland to ease Brexit tensions

·2 min read
A sign is seen with a message against the Brexit border checks in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol in Larne -  CLODAGH KILCOYNE/ REUTERS
A sign is seen with a message against the Brexit border checks in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol in Larne - CLODAGH KILCOYNE/ REUTERS

Britain has told Brussels it is prepared to introduce new customs checks on UK food products crossing the Irish Sea to Northern Ireland in four stages from October.

The UK offer comes after the Government infuriated the European Commission by unilaterally extending grace periods, including a three-month exemption for supermarkets, in the Northern Ireland protocol.

Brussels began legal action against the UK and said the move was a breach of international law and the Brexit treaty which creates a customs border between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.

The Protocol is designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland aligned with some EU rules after Brexit. This means food products travelling from the UK to Northern Ireland need to be checked by customs and certified.

The UK has given a roadmap, which has now been seen by the BBC, to the commission as a starting point for negotiations over resolving the impasse.

It covers more than 20 separate issues including medicines, access to databases and pet travel, the BBC reported.

The roadmap, which has been a closely guarded secret, says that the UK will begin official certification in four phases. This will begin in October for fresh meat products.

Phase two will cover dairy products, plant and wine and begin at the end of January.

Phases three and four cover fruit and vegetables marketing, pet food, organics and composite products but there are no dates for those steps because more information on staffing and integrating UK and EU certification systems is needed.

There is also no date for the construction of border posts at Northern Irish ports, which have got funding and are a particular concern for the commission.

At the weekend Lord Frost, the Cabinet minister and former Brexit negotiator, accused the EU of taking a “purist” view on the implementation of the Protocol for insisting on checks on goods that have very little chance of crossing the Irish border.

He urged Brussels to stop “point-scoring” and protect the peace, as new DUP leader Edwin Poots vowed to strip away the Protocol.

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