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Brexit: London and Brussels ponder Irish Sea border 'grace period'

Move prompted over fears of food shortages caused by red tape in the wake of Brexit


Diane Dodds

Diane Dodds

Diane Dodds

The UK Government and EU are discussing an adjustment period allowing supermarkets time to get in line with paperwork requirements on shipping products from Britain to Northern Ireland after the end of the Brexit transition period.

It follows a letter from the First and Deputy First Ministers requesting the European Commission to consider the special circumstances of UK supermarkets shipping here. They said it was unacceptable there was still uncertainty over how the protocol would operate, potentially affecting the supply of food.

A possible breakthrough in the form of a "grace period" was reported by RTE on Friday.

The European Commission would not comment.

The protocol concluded as part of the Withdrawal Agreement was designed to prevent a hard border in Ireland. But it requires checks on goods coming into Northern Ireland from Britain, which will be treated as part of the EU's single market, to ensure they are not at risk of being moved into the Republic.

There are 47 days until the transition period ends.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium, said: "The retail industry won't take anything for granted until we see it agreed in black and white from both the EU and UK Government, but it is clear that some businesses and some supply chains simply won't be ready by January 1.

"Therefore an adjustment period would be welcome to allow us to continue to give choice and affordability to NI households. But any adjustment period, if it indeed occurs, must be used wisely to get mitigations in place that allow us to trade properly rather than simply creating another cliff-edge."

Sainsbury's warned earlier this month that the burden of checks could mean it limits the range of items like meat, fish and dairy stocked in its local supermarkets.

ITV reported that Associated British Foods had said it could see problems getting fresh produce to here.

A UK Government spokesman said on Friday: "The UK and the EU have committed to an intensified process of engagement to resolve all outstanding issues with the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which includes securing the flexibilities we need for trade from GB to NI.

"This is particularly important for supermarkets, where we have been clear specific solutions are required. We will continue to work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive as discussions continue with the EU through the Joint Committee process."

Economy Minister Diane Dodds has also written to Minister for the Cabinet Michael Gove, a key figure in Brexit talks, to seeks assurances that companies here will still be able to transport goods to Britain via the Republic after the transition period.

The UK Government spokesman said: "The Government has brought forward measures which will guarantee unfettered access for goods moving from NI to GB from January 1, 2021.

"This is alongside the staged introduction of controls for GB-EU trade in the first half of next year, which will give businesses affected by coronavirus more time to prepare.

"As this system moves into its second phase during the course of next year, it will ensure that NI businesses will benefit from unfettered access whether they move their goods into GB directly or via Ireland.

"We are working closely and collaboratively with the NI Executive and businesses as we put that longer-lasting system in place."

Belfast Telegraph