The European Union has agreed to grant a three-month extension to the grace period for chilled meats entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, and will change EU legislation in order to ensure there is an undisrupted supply of medicines into Northern Ireland.
In a package of measures announced today, the European Commission also agreed to lift restrictions on guide dogs entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain, and to waive the need for motorists crossing the border into the South to have a motor insurance green card.
The Commission has also adopted new rules to avoid the need to re-tag animals which move multiple times between GB and Northern Ireland, for example, if they are moving back and forth to livestock fairs.
However, senior EU officials have warned that the UK is still showing no signs that it will fully implement the Protocol and said that the EU will continue with legal action if the Protocol is not implemented.
Officials say the UK has still not committed to building infrastructure at ports designed to facilitate checks on food and live animals.
"On Border Control Posts (BCPs) we're not satisfied," said a senior official. "There is no UK commitment to permanent or temporary BCPs, despite this being a very clear part of the operational aspects of the Protocol."
On the extension of the grace period, the EU says it is being granted in order to allow supermarkets in Northern Ireland more time to adapt their supply chains, so that products such as mince, sausages, pies, chicken nuggest and other goods can be sourced locally in Northern Ireland or from the South.
"The supply chains have adapted but not sufficiently, and that's why the UK wrote to us requesting an extension," said the official.
"The further extension we are announcing today will allow stakeholders, and in particular supermarkets in Northern Ireland, to complete the adjust of their supply chains."
The UK is disputing that it has agreed that supply chains must be adapted, and has argued that there is no reason for such goods to be prohibited from entering the North.
However, as part of the deal, the UK has issued a unilateral declaration that it will not change its food safety and animal health rules for the duration of the grace period extension. Those rules are essentially the same as EU rules since the UK has not diverged from such standards in the months since Brexit took effect.
"This temporary solution is subject to strict conditions," a senior EU official said.
"For example, meat products must remain under the control of the Northern Ireland competent authorities, they must be accompanied by official health certificates issued by UK competent authorities, can only be sold to end consumers from supermarkets located in Northern Ireland, and must be packed and labelled accordingly."
The official added: "The UK will not change the rules applicable to such products and we are confident that if you put these conditions together we will protect the integrity of the single market."
The UK's Brexit minister David Frost said: "This is a positive first step but we still need to agree a permanent solution - Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and its consumers should be able to enjoy products they have bought from Great Britain for years.
"This is a very clear sign that the Protocol has to be operated in a pragmatic and proportionate way. The chilled meats issue is only one of a very large number of problems with the way the Protocol is currently operating, and solutions need to be found with the EU to ensure it delivers on its original aims: to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, safeguard Northern Ireland's place in the United Kingdom, and protect the EU's single market for goods. We look to work energetically with the EU to do so."
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The European Commission will change its legislation so as to ensure that medicines produced in, or distributed from Britain, can be licensed for use in Northern Ireland.
"This would allow for example generic medicines to continue to be available in Northern Ireland, and this is of particular importance to the NHS," said the official.
"The Commission has launched an internal workstream on this topic, it has shared its ideas and discussed them with the UK and we plan to put forward a legislative proposal on this in the autumn. We consider it to be a political priority."
However, the EU has signalled it will continue to take legal action against the UK if it acts unilaterally.
"Where the UK disrespects its disagreements with us and acts unilaterally we will be tough, but we will always stand by the people of Northern Ireland," said the official. "We will continue to do what we can for them."
Both sides have agreed that the three-month grace period extension should be used to negotiate a long term solution to the problem of how large consignments of food moving from GB to Northern Ireland can be facilitated without risk to the EU's single market.
The EU continues to suggest a bilateral veterinary agreement whereby the UK would continue to align with EU food safety rules as a way to eliminate 80% of the controls on the Irish Sea, while the UK is pushing for an "equivalence" based solution.
This would involve both sides acknowledging each other's high food standards, with a parallel trusted trader scheme, and the ability of either side to reinstate checks if the other diverged from those high standards.
An EU official said that if the UK wanted to do away with checks altogether, then a Swiss-style veterinary agreement was the only way to achieve that.
However, the official held out the option of something short that would fall short of that.
"If the UK's intention is to reduce the number of checks, then they need to tell us, then we will find a solution adapted to that. Where the UK wants to reserve the ability to diverge from EU rules, then the knock on effect of that is the presence of checks."
NI voters evenly split over protocol - poll
Meanwhile, an opinion poll has suggested that people in Northern Ireland are "highly exercised" and "evenly split" over the protocol.
The poll conducted by LucidTalk for a team of researchers at Queen's University Belfast has found that a majority of people in Northern Ireland have concerns about the current impact of the protocol.
However, it also finds that recent protests and political debate since April have "not led to any significant growth in the proportion of voters objecting to it", suggesting that positions on the protocol are "already quite well entrenched".
The majority of the 1,500 respondents (67%) said they believe that Northern Ireland does need "particular arrangements" for managing the impact of Brexit, but they are divided on the protocol itself.
When asked whether the protocol is appropriate for Northern Ireland, 47% agree that it is, but 47% disagree.
43% think that the protocol is, on balance, good for Northern Ireland, whereas 48% think that it is not, and 56% agree that the protocol provides Northern Ireland with a unique set of post-Brexit economic opportunities.
The research also finds that more people are concerned about the cost of certain products (69%) than the choice of products for consumers (61%) or the existence of checks and controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain (58%).
A majority of respondents (57%) say that they would like to see the UK agreeing to regulatory alignment with the EU to address this.
Only a minority (38%) said that they would like to see such checks and controls moved from ports and airports in Northern Ireland to the Irish land border.
Additional reporting PA