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UK government to 'take temporary steps' to help business adapt to NI Protocol

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Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis (Leon Neal/PA)

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis (Leon Neal/PA)

PA

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis (Leon Neal/PA)

The UK Government is to take a series "temporary operational steps" to give more time for business to adapt to then Northern Ireland Protocol.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson again pledged "nothing would be off the table" to ensure unfettered trade across the Irish Sea in both directions.

Mr Johnson said: "The position of Northern Ireland within the UK internal market is rock solid and guaranteed. We are making sure that we underscore that with some temporary operational easings in order to protect the market in some areas, such as food supplies, pending further discussions with the EU and as I have said I think to (him) and his colleagues we leave nothing off the table in order to ensure that we get this right.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said more time was needed to adapt and implement post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland.

He told MPs it was the Government's "intention that no charging regime is required for agrifoods", adding further details will be outlined in a statement on Wednesday.

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The Northern Ireland Protocol was designed by the EU and UK to avoid placing a border on the island of Ireland to protect the EU's single market. However, with checks required on goods coming from GB to NI there has been disruption with delays to items and some businesses stopping sending goods altogether.

Unionist have called for the protocol to be replaced saying. The EU and UK, however, have both pledged to made the instrument work and ease disruption.

In the Commons, Brandon Lewis said further guidance will be provided later this week on parcel movements from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, amid concerns raised by DUP Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson about disruption to orders as the end of the three-month grace period nears.

Mr Lewis also told MPs: "We've heard the concerns that have been raised by people and businesses in Northern Ireland and we're sensitive to the economic, societal and political realities in Northern Ireland.

"That is why we're taking forward a series of further temporary operational steps which reflect the simple reality that there is more time needed to adapt and implement new requirements as we continue our discussions with the EU.

"These include a new operational plan for supermarkets and their suppliers, committed to at the joint committee, and I'll lay a written ministerial statement detailing these steps later today."

The EU and UK are to meet later on Wednesday to discuss the matter.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said that even with the grace periods for supermarkets currently in place - which are to end in April - there had been "massive disruption of trade".

He said there had to be more than just an extension to those grace periods.

"Really there needs to be a reset or a rethinking of the agreement so that we have an alternative arrangement such as the mutual enforcement of regulations which would exempt Northern Ireland being subject to EU laws, and from the EU European Court of Justice [sic] making judgments about this part of the UK."

Mr Lewis said his government had to ensure there was no disruption to trade "across the UK".

Conservative MP Philip Hollobone accused the EU of an "outrageous abuse" of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He added: "Isn't it clear that as it stands at the moment the operation of the protocol is not working, there is far too much disruption to businesses and families in Northern Ireland and it urgently needs to be either reset or scrapped altogether?"

Mr Lewis said there were "challenges" in the operation of the protocol in early January, telling the Commons: "The EU's decision to invoke Article 16 has compounded these issues, there's no doubt about that and it significantly undermined cross-community confidence.

"That action was not in the spirit of the protocol and that is partly why we're taking the actions I'll be outlining in the written ministerial statement later today."

The EU took the decision to invoke article 16 - a safety mechanism designed to alleviate disruption of the protocol is causing economic, societal or environmental difficulties - over its inability to secure enough coronavirus vaccines. He later backed down and did not activate the article - considered a last resort.

Belfast Telegraph


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