Britain’s long history of Euroscepticism has seen a whole series of food-related rows with Brussels over everything from bendy bananas to crisp flavour regulations. The latest bust-up revolves around sausages.
Boris Johnson’s government is accusing Brussels of adopting a “purist” approach to meat regulations enshrined in the Brexit withdrawal deal – warnings that the import of sausages from Great Britain to Northern Ireland could be blocked entirely.
The rows comes ahead of a looming “grace period” deadline in a temporary agreement, which has allowed Northern Irish supermarkets to continue importing chilled meats – including those all-important sausages.
Why so much fuss over sausages?
Mr Johnson’s government has threatened to act unilaterally to ignore legally-required checks on chilled meats such as sausages and mince moving from GB to NI when the current “grace period” expires at the end of June.
EU food safety rules mean that only frozen meat can be imported into its single market. And under the Northern Ireland Protocol, those food safety rules are imposed on good moving across the Irish Sea.
EU Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic has made clear Brussel would act “swiftly, firmly and resolutely” if the UK tried to backtrack on agreements made under the Brexit withdrawal deal.
Mr Sefcovic has raised the prospect of a trade war – with the EU imposing tariffs and quotas on British exports – if the UK failed to meet any of the international obligations enshrined in the protocol.
Why are ministers getting so angry about sausages?
Environment secretary George Eustice has described the row as “bonkers” on Tuesday – claiming he had “no idea” why the EU imposed “idiosyncratic” rules on the movement chilled meat.
“I suspect it links to some kind of perception that they can’t really trust any country other than an EU country to make sausages,” Mr Eustice said.
Fellow cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said on Wednesday that the UK was only asking the EU to show some “common sense” over some of the protocol arrangements.
“We’re asking them to show some common sense and enable something as simple as some chilled meats like a sausage to travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland,” the communities secretary told Sky News.
Mr Jenrick added: “I hope that we can sort that out because there are also things even more important than sausages at stake here, for example medicines.”
So what happens next? Is there any room for compromise?
Brexit minister David Frost is urging the EU to show “pragmatism and common sense” ahead of a meeting with his counterpart Mr Sefcovic in London on Wednesday.
While there is no sign of a breakthrough deal on chilled meat exports, reports both sides are ready to agree to some changes in the protocol.
It could mean the “uninterrupted” supply of medicines moving between GB and NI, as well as easing some livestock regulations to avoid “multiple tagging”.
EU officials insist they want to go further. Brussels has encouraged the UK to agree to a Swiss-style “agri-food” deal, which would eliminate roughly 80 per cent of checks on goods.
But Downing Street has rebuffed the offer, fearing any agreement tying the UK to EU standards would damage the chances of a comprehensive free trade deal with the US.