A senior official has warned that there are just three weeks to finalise plans for post Brexit checks at Northern Ireland ports.
Measures must be in place to carry out checks on goods moving between the region and Great Britain after the UK leaves the EU to comply with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Northern Ireland’s chief vet Robert Huey told Stormont’s agriculture committee that in order to secure approvals for border check processes by the end of the transition period, the application needs to be completed by June 24, 2020.
He told MLAs he wanted to set expectations, adding that “a smooth end to transition is no longer possible – that can’t be delivered”.
“Let’s start with that realisation. What we are trying to deliver is a minimal viable product to keep product moving, to keep food on shelves on January 1, 2021 – that’s how serious it is,” he said.
“The last date to go to the European Commission to expect them to do the work they need to do to designate border control posts was March 31, but they’ve given us an extension through to the end of June. That work has to be done in effect by June 23/24.”
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Permanent Secretary Denis McMahon told MLAs there are around 200 lorries entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain every day.
He explained officials are working on plans to extend current facilities at ports into EU approved border control posts.
Dr McMahon said officials have met with Larne, Belfast, Warrenpoint, Foyle sea ports and the two main airports, and are working seven days a week on the application.
“We have a lot of work to do and a very short amount of time to do it in,” he said.
He said a paper was published by the UK government on May 20 was the first “clear mandate” and “clarity of the UK government’s position”.
“We’re now moving from information gathering to active delivery planning in anticipation we will need to move quickly,” he said.
Basically the simpler the processes while maintaining biosecurity, promoting public health and complying with the law, the more likely we will be able to succeed in our aim of reducing trade frictionDenis McMahon
Dr McMahon said officials need support from both the UK Government and EU to “make this work”.
“The UK Government has confirmed it will provide the Northern Ireland Executive with support and expertise to deliver the project but this is not the only support we need,” he said.
“Importantly the success of this project is not entirely within our control. We will need the help of both the UK Government and the EU to make this work, and they will need to help us work through these issues over the coming weeks and months.
“Basically the simpler the processes while maintaining biosecurity, promoting public health and complying with the law, the more likely we will be able to succeed in our aim of reducing trade friction.”
Dr McMahon said 60% of UK food imports are from the EU and 70% of the retail food supply to Northern Ireland comes from Great Britain, adding “to put it bluntly, we all need to make this work”.