OPINION: 'Sausage Wars' are really about ensuring our food is safe

Sausages on sale in Marks & Spencer in Belfast this week

Sausages on sale in Marks & Spencer in Belfast this week - Credit: PA

As the leaders of the world’s biggest economies tucked into their specially-created G7 pasties in Cornwall last weekend, I started wondering two things.

Firstly, what typical foods would we give them if the meeting had taken place in Norfolk and, as the whole thing was overshadowed by arguments about the Northern Ireland protocol, why do we insist on trivialising complex and important matters by giving them simplistic tabloidesque monikers such as ‘Sausage Wars’?

There are many answers to the first question, given the plethora of excellent food and drink which is produced in our county. Cromer crabs would of course be on the menu, alongside Norfolk asparagus, samphire, Brancaster mussels, Norfolk Black turkey, and Norfolk mustard, washed down with Bullards Coastal Gin or Winbirri Bacchus.

Mind you, the level of disagreement and bad blood that seems to exist between our own leader and those from the EU – who seem remarkably united – would be enough to give you indigestion before you even tucked into the starter.

Most of it seemed to be caused by the insistence of all of the EU politicians that both sides should comply with the Northern Ireland protocol – an agreement that, let’s remember, was proposed by the UK, approved by our ‘sovereign’ parliament, and enthusiastically advocated by the very politicians who are now trying to wriggle out of its clauses.

I’m intrigued by the rather sneering accusations made by UK ministers about the EU’s ‘legal purism’. Surely that just means that our European counterparts are abiding by the legally-binding agreement they signed up to. I suspect our own populist politicians would be the first to complain if the EU decided to do otherwise. It’s a good example of unhelpful ‘spin’ language.

But last weekend saw the emergence of an even more dumbed-down phrase, which was bandied about by UK politicians and enthusiastically repeated by that section of the media for whom, as the German newspaper Spiegel pithily put it, facts are optional: ‘Sausage Wars’.

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This rather simplistic title has been adopted because one of the central tenets of the Northern Ireland protocol is that food standards in the province must remain aligned with those of the EU – and that means that exporting sausages and other processed meats from Great Britain to Ulster will become much more difficult.

‘But our sausages are perfectly safe, so that’s ridiculous’ cry those who advocate breaking the international treaty. That may be true, but the relevance of that statement was immediately shot down on Tuesday, when the UK signed a trade agreement with Australia which could well see hormone-injected beef appear on our supermarket shelves before the end of the year.

CARBIS BAY, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 10: The Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie meet the

Prime minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie meet the US President Joe Biden and the First Lady Jill Biden in Carbis Bay Cornwall ahead of the G7 Summit last week - Credit: Getty Images

You see, the concerns of the EU about ignoring the Northern Ireland protocol have nothing to do with sausages, and everything to do with keeping out food manufactured using dubious production methods from the Single Market. And who shall blame them?

If we couldn’t negotiate a trade deal with Australia without giving way on hormone-injected beef, then what chance is there that we will be able to resist chlorine-washed chicken or GM vegetables when it comes to doing a deal with the much more powerful US? We shouldn’t be surprised that our European neighbours don’t want the Irish Sea to become a ‘Trojan horse’ entry point for such food.

Whatever your view of the EU – and I would be the first to acknowledge that as an institution there is much to criticise – it is unarguable that it has enabled its citizens to enjoy the highest food standards in the world. Far from complaining about red tape, we should be celebrating the fact that what we eat is overwhelmingly safe, thanks largely to those much-maligned Brussels bureaucrats.

It is pure political dogma which prevents the UK from signing up to a Swiss-type arrangement whereby we agree to maintain those high standards of animal welfare and food safety; doing so would solve the Northern Ireland protocol problem at a stroke, as well as protecting UK consumers from the kind of chlorine-washed, hormone-laden abominations that currently seem certain to be on our plates within the year.

Such a move would also offer protection to UK farmers, allow them to compete with imports on a level playing field, and open up the EU market to their products. I can’t see how wishing for such an outcome can possibly be unpatriotic.

If you want to trade with other countries – and the ‘Global Britain’ Brexiteers claim that is indeed their aim – there will always be an element of compromise when it comes to sovereignty on both sides, whether you’re talking about the EU or any other trading partner. If that is the small price we have to pay for ensuring our citizens aren’t poisoned with genetically-modified, chemical-laden food imports, then I say that’s a price worth paying.