As per the Northern Ireland Protocol, agreed in 2020, Northern Ireland is temporarily in effect still within the EU single market, meaning that new border checks as a result of Brexit are not required.
Instead checks on certain goods from Great Britain are made within Northern Ireland, effectively creating a new border at the Irish Sea.
The aim of the Protocol was to maintain the integrity of the EU single market while enabling Northern Ireland to continue trading freely with the rest of the United Kingdom, and to be a part of any trade agreements between the UK and third party countries outside of the EU.
Avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has also been a priority due to the stipulations of the Good Friday Agreement, a vital part of the Northern Ireland peace process.
The UK and the EU agreed to a grace period until 1st April 2021 that would allow Northern Ireland to continue functioning as part of the EU single market, with reduced border controls, as a way of easing the transition to the new rules.
Boris Johnson’s government unilaterally extended the grace period until the end of September, prompting legal action from the EU for breaching the Protocol.
In June the UK extended the grace period for sausages and mince specifically, with the EU’s agreement.
It’s now done the same again with no further deadline, to “provide space for further potential negotiations”, according to Brexit Minister David Frost.
The European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, did not formally agree with this latest move, but announced that it would not be proceeding to the next stage with its earlier legal action.
It did, however, insist that it would not be allowing renegotiations of the Protocol, which it still views as legally binding.