John Lewis has said it is intent on resuming deliveries to Northern Ireland after tweaking its IT system to distinguish between goods meant for here and goods meant for Great Britain.
It comes as unionist unrest over the Irish Sea border continues and the EU-UK joint committee on the Northern Ireland Protocol meets this afternoon to discuss whether grace periods waiving customs and regulatory checks on goods travelling from Great Britain can be extended.
Despite an exemption from customs procedures until April on parcels worth under £135, John Lewis stopped sending packages to Northern Ireland at the end of last year.
Other retailers, such as Dunelm, also suspended deliveries and Amazon stopped sending wine, beer and spirits to customers in Northern Ireland.
It is understood, however, that John Lewis will announce a date for the resumption of deliveries within the next few weeks.
A spokeswoman said yesterday: “We are really sorry we have had to temporarily pause our deliveries to Northern Ireland and for any inconvenience this may have caused.
“As a UK-only retailer, the post-Brexit arrangements require us to make a range of changes to our systems so that they can automatically differentiate between deliveries to Northern Ireland and other locations in the UK.
“These changes are time-consuming as they need to take effect across our unusually wide assortment of products.
“We really value our customers in Northern Ireland and look forward to serving them again once our systems alterations are complete.”
Aodhan Connolly, the director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, and other industry representatives discussed the grace periods and operation of the protocol at a meeting of the Assembly Economy Committee this morning.
He said trading regulations on parcels were only revealed 18 hours before the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.
“A lot of (companies) have had to set up whole new systems, even some of the biggest guys, because they don’t usually deliver outside of the UK customs union and single market,” he added.
“To be fair to them, they have worked very, very hard to come back online.”
Speaking ahead of the meeting of the EU-UK joint committee, Maros Sefcovic, the vice-president of the European Commission, said: “We will be going into that meeting with a constructive, solution-driven attitude.
“The EU has always been and remains fully committed to the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement and to the proper implementation of the protocol — protecting the gains of the peace process, maintaining stability, avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and preserving the integrity of the single market.
“At the same time, to make the Protocol work on the ground, we need to act jointly to minimise the impact of Brexit on the everyday lives of all communities in both Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“We are therefore open to pragmatic and flexible solutions to facilitate the implementation in line with the protocol and EU law.
Since the start of this week, after one short-term grace period came to an end, export health certificates have been required for chilled processed meats moving to Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said any extension to grace periods would be a “sticking plaster” designed to paper over what unionists regard as the long-term problems of the protocol, including the erection of a trade barrier between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
However, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis warned yesterday that the protocol was here to stay.
“The protocol is a legal agreement that’s in place... and we’ve got to make sure we make it works in a positive way for people in Northern Ireland,” he told the BBC this morning.