The practicality of the NI Protocol is being called back into question as the (already extended) grace period is now looking to be pushed back further.
The so called “sausage ban”, the prohibition of trading some chilled meats between Great Britain and the EU, was given an initial 6-month grace period after Brexit.
A larger concern, particularly for supermarkets, is that all movements of food products (meat, dairy, eggs, fish) from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will require full Port Health certification to cross the border. This will add to the already high increase in administrational demand since the NI Protocol started to be phased in on January 1st.
Great Britain has advised that “established” businesses in Northern Ireland will be given permission to export to the mainland without additional checks. However, there are currently no guidelines for how this will be in practice as officials have yet to ascertain what will make a businesses and goods eligible, with the aim being to prevent misuse of the scheme to avoid customs checks and taxes, whether the NI Protocol is amended to accommodate or not.
How many times has the NI Protocol grace period been extended?
In March, Great Britain unilaterally extended grace periods as businesses and the border were not ready for the full implementation of the NI Protocol. This was met with outrage from the EU, who stated it was in breach of the agreement, but the extension was not withdrawn.
Later, in June, Great Britain made a formal application to extend the grace period until 30th September, and the European Union agreed that the infrastructure was still not able to accommodate the additional checks.
What is next for the Northern Ireland Protocol?
Northern Ireland’s Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has, this week, called for further extension of grace periods, stating that there would be “real problems” if the NI Protocol came into effect on 1st October.
Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has also commented that he wouldn’t object to an extension of the grace period, but it wouldn’t solve the underlying issues, only put them off.
Great Britain outlined to the EU in July that a standstill period was needed to discuss the practicality of the NI Protocol, and make amendments to prevent friction in Northern Ireland. The European Union agreed at the time to consider all the technicalities of the proposal, but no official updates have been given.
No official extension of the grace period has been applied for or given, meaning that the current end date of September 30th is in effect, but Great Britain has indicated it will be extending the grace period for checks on Northern Ireland to mainland Britain as a minimum.
Whether or not the extension to the NI Protocol is granted unilaterally, by Great Britain, or in agreement with the EU remains to be seen.