Brexit

EU not contemplating blocking Northern Ireland food supplies, says retail group

Aodhan Connolly of the NI Retail Consortium said the EU had indicated it still intended to seek a deal during its negotiations with the UK
Michael McHugh, PA

The EU is not contemplating blocking food supplies to Northern Ireland, a representative of the country's largest supermarkets has said.

British prime minister Boris Johnson said Brussels was threatening to use an "extreme interpretation" of the Northern Ireland Protocol to impose "a full-scale trade border down the Irish Sea" that could stop transport of food from Britain.

But Aodhan Connolly of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said he wanted to focus on facts.

"This has been blown out of proportion," he said.

"We want to concentrate on the facts, remove the politics and look at the process. The EU have said that they would not, and have not, contemplated this."

The consortium speaks for Sainsbury's, Asda, Lidl and a range of other retailers.

Mr Johnson's controversial Brexit legislation enabling the UK to break international law has cleared a major Commons hurdle after MPs backed a Government compromise.

Tory backbench pressure forced Mr Johnson to agree to amend the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill to give MPs a vote before the British government can use powers which would breach the Brexit divorce deal brokered with Brussels last year.

Members of Stormont's economy committee quizzed Mr Connolly today.

He said the impact of a no-deal Brexit depended on whether some aspects were agreed or nothing at all.

"A complete no deal is the difference between a paper wall down the Irish Sea and a brick wall down the Irish Sea."

He added it would be near-impossible for firms to be ready for a crash-out exit in time.

"Business does not have the bandwidth," he said.

"There is no capacity to deal with huge amounts of changes as well as the ongoing pandemic."

Mr Connolly said the EU had indicated it still intended to seek a deal during its negotiations with the UK.

The Northern Ireland Protocol keeping the country in the EU's trade market would come into effect if no agreement is reached.

British ministers have argued that powers to override the Withdrawal Agreement's provision are needed to protect the relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Bill also sets out the way trade within the UK will work once it is outside the EU's single market and customs union.

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