Food supplies to Northern Ireland supermarkets from the rest of the UK will carry on without disruption for three months from 1 January whatever happens in the ongoing Brexit trade talks.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told the House of Commons yesterday (9 December) that supermarkets will be given extra time to phase in new border checks, ensuring food supplies to Northern Ireland do not face disruption.
The move will give supermarkets more time to adapt their systems to deal with new Brexit controls required by the European Union.
Under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol – which is intended to prevent a hardening of the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – the province will leave the EU Customs Union with the rest of the UK at the end of this year but will continue to enforce the EU’s customs code at its ports.
Goods arriving from the rest of the UK are supposed to be checked and controlled at Northern Ireland’s ports from 1 January.
The check-free grace period will initially be for three months, with six months guaranteed for chilled-meat products.
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Gove said the Government had heard “loud and clear” the concerns of supermarket firms and that more flexibility was needed.
“British sausages will continue to make their way to Belfast and Ballymena in the new year,” he said.
Commenting on the development, Ian Wright, chief executive of UK industry body The Food & Drink Federation (FDF), said: “The FDF has continuously called for a trusted trader scheme to be extended to all food and drink movements into Northern Ireland. Michael Gove’s announcement is positive news. We await the detailed terms and conditions to accompany this scheme and the derogations from current legal obligations that will apply beyond April 2021. The devil is in the detail.”
Meanwhile, talks are still ongoing to try and secure a trade deal between the UK and the EU to kick in after 1 January when the post-Brexit transition period ends and the UK goes it alone.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels last night to try and iron out existing differences but no agreement has yet been reached and the parties say Sunday (13 December) is now the deadline for any deal to be signed off.
Yesterday, the UK’s biggest supermarket group, Tesco, said it was stockpiling food ahead of a potential no-deal Brexit, amid concerns potential blockages at the country’s ports could lead to product shortages.