The UK and EU face a furious Brexit battle over sausages after Tory ministers started attacking a Brussels ban on bangers.
UK farmers are already banned from sending the meaty snack to the Continent under post-Brexit rules.
But now the clock is ticking on trade from Britain to Northern Ireland too – as it was only allowed under a six-month grace period.
That grace period expires at the end of June – after that, certain "chilled meat preparations" may be barred from going west across the Irish Sea.
If it's not resolved it's feared this could lead to supply gaps in Belfast supermarket. It includes chilled mince, chicken nuggets and chilled raw sausages, plus ungraded eggs and some unpasteurised milk.
The meaty impasse was already clear last year – because Tory ministers first agreed to put Northern Ireland under some EU rules, then agreed their post-Brexit trade deal without resolving the issue.
Boris Johnson, pictured with sausages in the Tory leadership race, knew about the meaty impasse
(Image: DARREN STAPLES/POOL/EPA-EFE/REX)
Now that the deadline is creeping up and rhetoric is mounting, UK ministers have piled blame on the EU over the "nonsensical" policy.
With crunch talks due today, UK ministers are reportedly considering extending the grace period unilaterally – something they've already done for other trade with Northern Ireland.
That prompted a furious response today from European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic, who warned of retaliation.
He wrote in the Telegraph: "If the UK takes further unilateral action over the coming weeks, the EU will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure that the UK abides by its international law obligations."
Hitting back, Environment Secretary George Eustice said the banger ban was "nonsensical" and "I've no idea" why it exists.
He told Sky News: "What we really need the EU to do is to respect that part of the Protocol and put in place sensible measures to remove things like the nonsensical ban on selling sausages or chicken nuggets to Northern Ireland – not just requiring paperwork, but actually having an outright ban on some of those goods – that clearly doesn't make sense."
“I don’t think there’s any need for a trade war," Mr Eustice told LBC Radio.
But he added: “There’s no problem with our sausages or indeed our chicken nuggets.
"The issue is there is a peculiar quirk in EU law which says that sausages that are made in a ‘third country’ – for these purposes that’s anywhere in Great Britain – are banned from sale in the EU.
"Our view is that obviously Northern Ireland is an integral part of the UK so that’s not an export trade and therefore that trade should be allowed to continue.”
The sausage row was established in the Northern Ireland Protocol – part of Boris Johnson's original 'oven-ready' Brexit deal in 2019 – because the region has to follow some EU rules on trade.
It was then unresolved in the last-minute trade deal the PM signed with great fanfare at Christmas.
Mr Eustice even suggested he would be happy with Joe Biden to discuss the sausage dispute with Boris Johnson – because it is vital to Northern Irish peace.
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The US President flies into Britain for G7 talks with Boris Johnson this week and is likely to raise unrest in Northern Ireland in the six months since Brexit.
Mr Eustice argued: "If we truly believe in the good Friday Agreement, as the UK government does, and if we truly believe in peace in Northern Ireland… that means making the Northern Ireland protocol work properly.
"That means the EU engaging sensibly in resolving in some of these issues.
"And I suspect that any US administration would be amazed if you were to say for instance that a sausage from Texas couldn’t be sold to California."