NI secretary blamed coronavirus not Brexit for food shortages
Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has likened the secretary of state's denial Brexit is to blame for empty supermarket shelves to the fable of the Emperor's New Clothes.
Mr Lewis blamed the trading chaos across the Irish Sea on coronavirus in a television interview on Tuesday morning.
Mr Poots said it was not "good policy to go about to say something that is blatantly not the case".
He was asked about the "destructive" approach of the "unmitigated disaster that is the Northern Ireland protocol" by his party colleague Paul Givan during Tuesday's Assembly session.
Mr Givan asked about what evidence there was of the Irish Government taking a more "constructive approach rather than seeking to isolate Northern Ireland as a punishment and to pursue their own ideology of the reunification of this island".
"And if they will join with you in trying to convince people like the prime minister and the secretary of state who are downplaying the problems of the protocol not least even today at blaming empty shelves on Covid."
Mr Poots referenced the Emperor's New Clothes in responding.
"Only it is not the small boy pointing it out, it is the entire crowd. He really needs to reflect on that," he told MLAs.
"We know what the problems are and we know where the problems emanate from. We know the issues that need to be dealt with."
He said he had asked for meetings with officials in the Republic over "significant issues of concern," particularly around delays at the Port of Dublin admitting there had been better cooperation with ministers in London than Dublin.
He said hauliers had been waiting for days in poor sanitary conditions in Dublin and perishable goods lost.
Mr Poots has been accused of "trying to wind people up" after he suggested processed goods like jelly or gravy could be unavailable after the end of the Protocol grace period.
Speaking in the Assembly he said that while items such as gravy and trifle may seem unimportant there were "hundreds of products which are going to be challenging to have on our shelves post April 1 should we not get some common sense beyond that point".
Responding on Twitter to the minister's remarks about the Emperor's New Clothes Brandon Lewis said: "Not sure anyone needs that image in their head."
He added: "I also outlined that we do need to ensure a long-term solution for post the grace period and that Edwin Poots is right on that."
Pressure has been mounting on the Government to sort out the trade chaos that has brought empty shelves to supermarkets across Northern Ireland following the end of the transition period which severed links between the EU and UK.
Hundreds of products have disappeared in shops, 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.
Last week First Minister Arlene Foster said she had raised the disruption with Brandon Lewis.
Mr Lewis said any empty supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland were due to coronavirus issues and not because of Brexit.
Speaking to Sky News on Tuesday morning, Mr Lewis said: "The unfettered access was always about Northern Ireland businesses into Great Britain.
"The flow of food and goods linked to the EU and the Northern Ireland Protocol has been good actually."
He added: "Where we've seen some images of empty shelves in Northern Ireland - although let's be clear we've seen them across the UK recently - has been linked to Covid and some of the challenges we've had at Dover due to Covid just before Christmas and the flow through the supply line of that rather than through the protocol.
"Supermarkets we've been talking to regularly have good flows of supply and that's important to Northern Ireland, being an integral part of the United Kingdom."
A protocol agreed between the EU and UK means Northern Ireland follows the EU’s rules on matters like animal product standards and creates extra paperwork on goods travelling from Great Britain.
A soft-touch three-month period has been negotiated with the EU for regulating supermarket goods transported from the rest of the UK following the end of the transition period.