EU Brexit chief says UK-Australia trade deal is ‘massive concern’ for Northern Irish farms

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The European Commission vice-president suggested farmers in the region have “major concerns” over the pact brokered between London and Canberra. Mr Sefcovic pointed out that any changes to agri-food rules in the UK to accommodate trade with Australia could stand in a way of finding a solution to ending the row over post-Brexit trade checks for Northern Ireland. The EU and UK are currently locked in talks to minimise the disruption currently being caused by the withdrawal deal’s Protocol to avoid a hard border.

Asked whether the UK-Australia pact could get in the way of those discussions, Mr Sefcovic told Politico: “I think the major concerns with the Australian deal are actually with the Northern Ireland farmers, not us.”

He said the post-Brexit border fix means there are necessary controls in place to stop food or animals from an area with lower standards entering the single market.

Eurocrats are currently insisting on implementing the checks in line with their hardline interpretation of the Brexit deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

But Mr Sefcovic repeated suggestions that the UK would be better off dynamically aligning to the bloc’s animal and food safety regulations to minimise those controls.

The experience Slovak diplomat believes any attempts to downgrade British standards in this area will cause the EU to enforce tougher checks on goods shipped to Northern Ireland.

“I wouldn’t say it’s so difficult for the UK because our standards are largely aligned right now,” he said.

“This would be the solution which would remove 80 percent of the checks, it would solve the problems, I would say immediately.”

In discussions with Brexit minister Lord Frost, Mr Sefcovic said Britain could even remain aligned on a temporary basis, with any UK-EU arrangements falling away if they get in the way of Downing Street’s post-Brexit trade efforts.

But No10 is staunchly against any plans that would leave Brussels with powers to meddle in our domestic affairs.

Under the NI Protocol, the region effectively remains inside the EU’s single market with a number of customs controls on goods shipped from Great Britain.

But the deal to avoid a hard border has sparked concerns in Unionist communities that they are being annexed from the rest of the UK.

One such issue that has arisen is a possible EU-imposed ban on British sausages being sold in Northern Ireland supermarkets.

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Brussels is set to sign off on a extension to the grace period on its blockade while a more permanent solution is found.

The red tape will be eased until the end of September but the row over sausages is expected to return.

But Mr Sefcovic insisted he does not want it to develop into a full-blown “sausage war”.

He said: “We should just respect the deals we have signed.

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“We just want to have more predictability and stability in our relationship and not have this perpetual discussion product-by-product.”

“It’s not easy to spend four years in super detailed negotiations where every line took days, weeks, and sometimes months to negotiate … and then you see one breach after another,” he added.

“As a sausage king I definitely do not want a sausage war.

“I’m ready to do everything to prevent it.”

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