Food retailers in Northern Ireland could reportedly be given a grace period to adjust to what may amount to costly border checks on imports coming from across the Irish Sea when the UK enters a new trade era with the European Union on 1 January.
The UK’s 12-month Brexit transition period ends on 31 December, with negotiations still ongoing to work out a potential trade deal with EU partners. Whether an agreement is reached or not, from the start of next year Northern Ireland will remain in the single market while the rest of the UK will go it alone, meanings goods have to pass through a new Irish Sea border and will be subject to inspection and certification.
Discussions are reportedly taking place between UK and EU officials that would allow food stuffs destined for supermarkets and other retailers in Northern Ireland to bypass the paperwork trail and avoid extra costs for a temporary period.
The BBC reported that Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and her deputy Michelle O’Neill have written to the European Commission (EC) to ask for some flexibility on border checks, which pose a “real threat” to food supplies.
“Hence we would ask you to recognise how important it is that the current consideration of the detail of how the protocol will be applied takes our unique context into account,” the ministers were reported as saying.
A spokesperson for the EC told the broadcaster the Commission is “currently exploring all options available under EU law” and that “discussions on this will continue with our UK counterparts in the joint committee and the relevant specialised committee”.