Brexit: David Frost on Theresa May's EU negotiations
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Britain has been embroiled in tense negotiations with Brussels over the past few months, as the two sides seek to come to an agreement over the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol. In an apparent breakthrough, the EU is preparing to offer the UK three major concessions, in what would be a shocking Brussels u-turn.
Brussels is expected to grant the UK a number of concessions to defuse the row and ensure progress is made towards a more comprehensive settlement over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
In a major win for the UK, EU officials are expected to announce a further grace period of at least three months for the export of chilled meats.
The current grace period is due to come to an end tomorrow, which would mean chilled meats cannot be exported to mainland Europe or even Northern Ireland from the UK under the current Brexit rules.
EU food safety rules mean only frozen meat can be imported into its single market, which would see a ban on sausages and mince meat exports.
So far Brussels had refused to back down over the matter, as it demands UK goods are subject to the EU’s stringent food safety rules.
The UK Government had refused to rule out taking unilateral action to ensure British chilled meats continue to go to Northern Ireland – a move that infuriated Brussels.
Maros Sefcovic, the vice president of the European Commission, has indicated a deal to address the conflict is imminent.
He hinted that the EU was poised to agree to the UK’s request to extend the current grace period on checks on chilled meat coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of Britain.
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Mr Sefcovic told Northern Irish politicians that he was in discussions with members states about an extension.
Speaking at a virtual sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Executive Office committee, he said: “I remain confident we can find a solution in the next 48 hours that can address both sides’ concerns.”
Extending the grace period would give the two sides more time to find a long-term solution.
The EU official said Brussels was prepared to make the concession and reduce border checks if the UK demonstrated a commitment to the “full and faithful” implementation of the Protocol.
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He said: “We are willing to consider taking bold steps if the UK government demonstrates a clear and concrete commitment to implementing the protocol in full.”
The extension to the grace period isn’t the only concession the EU is prepared to make.
Brussels is set to change EU law to allow medicines licenced for use in Britain to be prescribed in Northern Ireland without being reassessed.
The bloc will also exempt guide dogs from rules that require pet owners travelling between Britain and Northern Ireland to get an animal health certificate within 10 days of a trip.
Under the current terms of the Northern Ireland Protcol the province effectively remains in the EU single market to prevent a hard border emerging with Ireland.
The Irish government has been keen for fewer checks to be undertaken for British goods, in return for UK commitments on maintaining existing EU food and veterinary rules.
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