The EU and UK have been embroiled in a “sausage war” in recent months, and less than 30 days remain until the current deadline to reach an agreement. As things stand, Northern Irish shops will be banned from selling, among other things, British sausages from October 1, unless an agreement is reached or talks are extended. The British Government is looking to extend the grace period further – allowing goods to move from Great Britain to Northern Ireland – but Brussels responded with a threat, saying it could launch legal action against the UK.
As the row has intensified over the last few months, the UK Government has warned of retaliation in the form of a “water war”.
In February, The Telegraph reported that ministers were considering proposals dubbed “Waters Wars” – citing potential restrictions on the import of mineral water among other goods.
A senior Government source told the newspaper: “There is thought being given to where we can leverage in other areas. We have continuity arrangements… we can stop these which means they won’t be able to sell their produce here.”
The discussion for potential retaliatory measures began after Brussels announced that a ban on the export of live oysters, clams, scallops and mussels from Britain’s class B waters would become permanent because it is now listed as a third country.
In early July, the UK’s Environment Secretary George Eustice appeared to up the ante with a veiled threat.
He wrote to the EU’s food safety czar Sandra Gallina to say “all natural mineral waters which obtained their recognition as a member state will no longer be authorised for import into England” unless they are given accreditation by UK regulators.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “We’ve worked with all the major suppliers to give them support and notify them of changes.”
On top of this, European water exporters were told by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to contact either the department, Food Standards Scotland or the Food Standards Agency in Wales to continue to ship their products next year.
An expert was less than impressed with the UK’s tactics however, saying the fact mineral water from the EU has been sold in the UK until now “indicates this has very little to do with mineral water, it is a political bargaining tool”.
Dr Alexandre Nobajas, lecturer in human geography and geographic information systems at Keele University, told CityAM: “Mineral water both in the EU and the UK is an extremely regulated business that guarantees high product standards, so there is no need to further complicate its sale with more red tape.
“If mineral water is to be used as a bargaining tool to pressure the EU about other issues, the government can come up with a further set of rules that may make it difficult – or even impossible – to import EU water.”
For now, the sausage war truce is expected to be extended to allow for further talks.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said today: “We will provide an update to Parliament on standstill arrangements very shortly.
EU warned Poland is ‘clearly on path to Polexit’ [INSIGHT]
Brexit fury: German media branded Boris Johnson ‘cocky troublemaker’ [ANALYSIS]
Brexit: German media accused UK of ‘Stubbornly’ ditching EU [INSIGHT]
“We have previously set out the importance of providing certainty for businesses and citizens through the standstill arrangements so that we can have the space for our discussions with the EU.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, avoiding a hard border with Ireland at the extent of additional bureaucratic barriers for goods crossing from Great Britain.
Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he expected an extension to the current grace periods.
He added: “I think there is a high probability that it will happen, we are certainly open to it.”