The Taoiseach has said an extension on the chilled meats grace period under the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is expected to be formally agreed by the EU, is a positive sign.

Speaking in Brussels ahead of a two-day summit of EU leader, Micheál Martin said the UK should reciprocate following the EU's agreement, in principle, to grant an extension to the grace period on chilled meats, by helping to secure a broader food safety and animal health agreement for goods crossing the Irish Sea.

Mr Martin said the Biden administration had made it clear that the UK aligning with the EU's sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules would not impair a UK-US free trade agreement.

The Taoiseach said: "The biggest trade deal on offer for the UK is the US trade deal. The US are very clearly saying an SPS agreement would not impact on that."

The UK has consistently rejected the idea of aligning with EU SPS rules as a means to removing 80% of checks and controls on agrifood products moving from GB to NI under the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The EU and UK agreed last December that a ban on chilled, unfrozen meats, such as sausages, mince and pies, entering Northern Ireland from GB, would be deferred until 1 July.

Last week, the UK formally sought an extension to the grace period until 30 September.

The EU is expected to formally agree to the extension in the coming days.

"The extension of the grace period should be taken as a very positive sign," the Taoiseach told reporters.

"As part of that, the UK government should respond in a proactive way in terms of discussions. Then, I believe, following on from that, the time frame should be used to hammer out a deal [on SPS]."

He said that while the EU was insisting on the UK dynamically aligning with EU SPS rules and the UK was insisting on a so-called "equivalence" arrangement, whereby both sides recognise each other's food safety standards, the "precise landing of this" was something that should be negotiated through the EU UK Joint Committee, under the chairmanship of the UK’s David Frost and the EU’s Maroš Šefčovič.

Mr Martin said granting an extension to the chilled meats grace period was "the right thing to do" and would allow "things to settle down" in Northern Ireland.

"This would be an important signal in terms of the EU's willingness to continue to be constructive, as the European Union has been," he said. "The [European] Commission are considering this now, the UK has made a request, and in my view it should be granted."

"The extension of the grace periods would be further indication of the EU's constructive approach to this."