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Fresh calls for Brexit deadline extension to avoid hard Irish sea border

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Tight deadline: Stephen Farry

Tight deadline: Stephen Farry

Tight deadline: Stephen Farry

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is coming under increasing pressure to extend the deadline for the implementation of the Brexit withdrawal agreement to avoid a hard border in the Irish Sea.

An influential UK think tank said businesses are focused more on "staying afloat" rather than understanding new trade agreements.

The position is echoed by the Alliance Party, whose North Down MP Stephen Farry said: "Ultimately, given the need to focus on the Covid-19 crisis and its economic fallout, Alliance believes the UK Government must now seek an extension to the Brexit transition period."

The Government admitted last week that some checks on goods, particularly animal and food products, entering Northern Ireland from Britain will be subject to checks in line with the Northern Ireland Protocol agreed with the EU In January.

Mr Farry added: "A massive amount of work is still required to implement the protocol and give certainty to businesses and other stakeholders. Timescales are already very tight, if not impossible, and the Government must provide much more detail on that urgently."

The Institute for Government argued that the transition period must be extended or a longer implementation period agreed for the new border arrangements in the Irish Sea, according to a report in yesterday's Observer newspaper.

"The timetable for putting arrangements in place for the Irish Sea border was very tight even before Covid-19 hit Europe. But now coronavirus has slowed the pace of negotiations on the relationship, delaying key decisions," the think tank said.

"Key businesses such as freight transport associations and trading associations are focused on maintaining supply chains rather than getting ready for new border arrangements, and many businesses are focusing on staying afloat, not complying with new regulatory requirements.

"Against the background of a global pandemic, it is very difficult to see how preparations to implement the protocol can be completed before the end of the year - given the scale of both the decisions and practical work still required."

Dr Farry said "all opportunities to reduce and mitigate the impact of the Irish Sea interface must be taken".

"It is important to recall the protocol is the sad and inevitable outcome of the UK Government's decision to pursue a hard Brexit over the heads of the people of Northern Ireland and the consequent need to protect the particular circumstances of this region and the Good Friday Agreement," he added.

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