On 13th October the European Commission proposed bespoke arrangements to respond to the difficulties that businesses and the people in NI have been experiencing because of Brexit. This follows extensive discussions over the months and puts forward ideas based on elements raised in the UK’s Command Paper published in July 2021.
The package comes in the form of 4 ‘non-papers’, which propose further flexibilities in the area of food, plant and animal health, customs, medicines, and engagement with NI stakeholders.
(Note: a non-paper is an informal document, usually without explicit attribution, put forward in closed negotiations within EU institutions, notably the Council of Ministers, in order to seek agreement on some contentious procedural or policy issue).
Links to the non-papers can be found below:
- Engagement with Northern Ireland Stakeholders and Authorities – Enhanced engagement with Northern Ireland Stakeholders and Authorities.
- Customs – Flexible customs formalities to facilitate the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland – 50% reduction in paperwork.
- Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) issues – A bespoke solution for Northern Ireland on food, plant and animal health (i.e., “Sanitary and Phytosanitary issues”) – leading to approximately an 80% reduction in checks. Note: clearly, digitalising and reducing ID and physical checks at port would count to this 80% figure but Government is seeking clarity on exactly how it has been calculated.
- Medicines – Uninterrupted security of supply of medicines from GB to NI for the long-term.
Representatives from Defra have attended the discussions this week in Brussels which were said to be ‘difficult’ with the Commission’s opening line being ‘it is not their job to solve our problems’. Talks on the SPS issues took place on Tuesday 19th and top line feedback was given at the NI-GB Forum on Thursday 21st which BFFF attends.
Initial reading of the papers would indicate a significant movement by the EU. However, an awful lot is still to be clarified with the Commission as to what they actually mean. But it is clear that their proposals come with several conditions.
There are concerns that none of the easements would help Food Service as most of the proposals refer to the retail industry. However, the Commission have confirmed that they have focussed on ‘food packaged for end consumers’ and that their use of the term ‘retail’ is in accordance with EU Food Law (Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 Article 3(7) ) which, for your reference, states:
‘retail’ means the handling and/or processing of food and its storage at the point of sale or delivery to the final consumer, and includes distribution terminals, catering operations, factory canteens, institutional catering, restaurants and other similar food service operations, shops, supermarket distribution centres and wholesale outlets.
But even in retail they have repeated the need for products to be labelled specifically for NI, which may create issues for BFFF members with low volume sales in NI and added complexity even if volumes warrant separate SKU’s. There also remain questions around rules of origin and there does not seem to be any mention of easement of medicines for animals.
The Commission have also stated that there would be a reduced level of SPS checks where they consider the risk is low, but they are still to provide a list of what exactly they consider to be low risk and additionally, a list of what would be considered ‘Prohibited and Restricted’.
Commission experts are set to travel to London in the next week to begin discussing these four non-papers in detail with the UK government. This will be the start of a period of intense discussions over the coming weeks, with a view to reaching a jointly agreed permanent solution as soon as possible.
Additional information can be found here: