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Brexit 'sausage wars': EU plans 'dramatic' changes to ease Northern Ireland protocol row

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By Shona Murray
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A woman walks past past graffiti with the words 'No Irish Sea Border' in Belfast city centre, Northern Ireland, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021.
A woman walks past past graffiti with the words 'No Irish Sea Border' in Belfast city centre, Northern Ireland, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Peter Morrison
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The European Commission will announce a “bespoke” arrangement for Northern Ireland on Wednesday, senior EU sources have told Euronews, in a bid to end the deadlock that has been going on for almost a year.

For several months, many in the Unionist community have decried strict EU rules on chilled meats such as sausages from Britain being prohibited -- as they come from a country outside the EU’s single market.

In response, the EU will issue special provisions for “national identity goods”, ie British bangers, which will allow Northern Irish consumers access to products from Britain.

The UK government opted for a hard Brexit when it left the EU, which has resulted in high levels of checks on goods leaving the British mainland.

As part of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, the terms and conditions of the UK’s departure from the bloc, Northern Ireland remains in the EU’s single market for goods -- to keep an open land border with the Irish Republic -- while also having access to the UK’s internal market.

Unionists have been angered by the resulting Irish Sea border creating an internal UK trade barrier with Britain, although the British government has postponed new checks indefinitely.

Under Brussels' new proposals the EU plans to “dramatically” reduce the level of checks on goods.

"We obviously can’t get rid of all checks; we need to protect the Single Market, so surveillance will still apply but we hope to simplify a lot of this," a source told Euronews.

Given the deep political sensitivities in Northern Ireland and the rancorous nature of the debate about the protocol, Brussels is willing to take a “risk” by changing some of its rules checks and regulations for Northern Ireland only.

The EU has already changed rules on imports of generic medicines from a third country to allow for NHS medicine into Northern Ireland.

It has also allowed UK customs officers from the UK’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to conduct checks on goods from the UK to Northern Ireland -- a measure that is unprecedented within the EU’s single market.

The plan has the support of member states but there are jitters among many that the outcome of the plan will be the UK government will simply ‘bank’ these considerable changes and continue its crusade to end the protocol.

EU Vice President Maroš Šefčovič has been in close contact with his British Counterpart, Brexit Minister, David Frost over the last few months.

On Thursday at an event at the IIEA (International Institute for European Affairs) in Dublin, VP Šefčovič said “I’ve had a constructive engagement with Lord Frost over the whole summer.”

“Our team, I would say talking to each other all the team, are in very very frequent, very frequent contact.”

The details of Wednesday’s proposals will come as no surprise to Lord Frost and his team, say Brussels sources.

There is some faith that what is on offer will be taken in a constructive manner and can be built upon.

The EU would like to see the issues around the protocol put to rest by Christmas.

Earlier this week the UK government again attacked the protocol, but stopped short of suspending it altogether, as it has previously threatened to do.

David Frost told the Conservative Party conference the document "risks undermining" the peace accords it was meant to protect, blaming the European Union's "heavy-handed actions" in seeking to implement it.