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Northern Ireland's empty supermarket shelves 'unacceptable' as Brexit trade agreement causes chaos


Challenges: Former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith

Challenges: Former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith

Challenges: Former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith

Pressure mounted on the Government on Sunday to sort out the trade chaos that has brought empty shelves to supermarkets across Northern Ireland.

At Westminster, Labour's Shadow Secretary State Louise Haigh and Shadow Cabinet colleague Rachel Reeves MP have slammed the UK Government over the disruption that's hit Northern Ireland businesses and consumers this week, and called for urgent action on the issue.

Hundreds of products have disappeared from the shelves of retailers in Northern Ireland, many online sellers have stopped supplying NI customers, and freight hauliers report bottlenecks caused by new EU paperwork needed before lorries can board ferries from Great Britain.

First Minister Arlene Foster said she had already raised the disruption with the Secretary of State Brandon Lewis.

"The Protocol issues are very concerning. The fact that the Dublin Government has now taken easement in regard to the haulage coming across from Wales would point to the fact that our Government needs to act in relation to this.

"They need to take action so that goods can come across in a free way to Northern Ireland.

"We are all British citizens: therefore we should get exactly the same treatment as our colleagues on the mainland," she said.

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Speaking to the BBC, former NI Secretary of State Julian Smith admitted that the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol had brought "significant challenges" for consumers and businesses here.

"There seem to be significant challenges, particularly GB to NI, on the supply to so supermarkets and other food products, amongst other issues - and we need to get all of these issues worked through, so that businesses that we rely on to create the jobs coming out of this crisis can have clarity," the Conservative MP said.

Earlier, the two senior Labour MPs released the text of a letter jointly written to NI Mr Lewis and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove heavily criticising the UK Government over the impact of the Protocol on the lives of Northern Ireland people.

"As it stands, these people. who have half the discretionary income of GB households, are currently facing a lack of choice and price rises," they wrote.

"This is unacceptable, and the UK Government must step in to support supply chains and avoid disruption.

"The Protocol must be made to work: that is why we need urgent action to iron out these issues."

In Belfast, Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken described the Government's response to the NI Protocol crisis as "woeful".

"The very real impact of the regulatory border in the Irish Sea is becoming clearer by the day," he said.

"It is impacting trade across the board and not just in the transport of foodstuffs. However, the UK Government's response so far has been woeful.

"They are living in cloud cuckoo land.

"We need to see action to deal with the issues facing businesses and consumers today."

On Sunday night the UK Government rejected the criticisms.

"The flow of goods between GB and NI has been smooth overall and arrivals of freight have continued to increase substantially over this week," a NIO spokeswoman said. "There are no significant queues at NI ports, and supermarkets are reporting healthy supplies into their Northern Ireland stores."

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