A deal to avoid a ban on sausages and other chilled meats moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland has been agreed at the last minute.
The UK and EU have announced an extension to a grace period allowing their transit across the Irish Sea, hours before a ban would have come into force.
London had at one stage threatened to unilaterally extend the grace period, a move which would have triggered retaliation from Brussels in a row that has become known as the “sausage war”.
The dispute over chilled meats is one element of the Northern Ireland Protocol that has soured ties in recent months and provoked protests in Northern Ireland.
The Protocol is a key part of the Brexit deal struck between London and Brussels and is designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
As part of the arrangement, Northern Ireland remains under some EU rules and there are checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
Shipments of chilled meats from third countries into the EU’s single market, which Northern Ireland effectively remains a part of, are banned.
Brexit minister Lord Frost said the move was a “positive first step” but a “permanent solution” was needed, a reference to the fact that the ban on chilled meats will cover the rest of the UK unless a long-term fix is agreed.
“Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and its consumers should be able to enjoy products they have bought from Great Britain for years,” he said in a statement.
“This is a very clear sign that the Protocol has to be operated in a pragmatic and proportionate way.
“The chilled meats issue is only one of a very large number of problems with the way the Protocol is currently operating, and solutions need to be found with the EU to ensure it delivers on its original aims: to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, safeguard Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom, and protect the EU’s single market for goods.
“We look to work energetically with the EU to do so.”
The EU’s Maros Sefcovic said the bloc was not handing out a “blank cheque” by agreeing an extension.
“This solution is of temporary nature in which strong conditions are attached,” the European Commission vice-president said at a news conference in Brussels.
Mr Sefcovic added that while the EU’s stance on implementing the Protocol in full still stands, it will keep looking for “creative solutions” in the interest of communities in Northern Ireland.
Reacting to the news, the campaign group Best for Britain said the extension “will only provide temporary relief”.
“We need to secure an EU-UK veterinary arrangement as a long term solution,” chief executive Naomi Smith said.
“The only reason the government would refuse to do this, is if their real goal is to reduce our food and animal welfare standards in order to secure deals with countries like the USA.”
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