Brexit

Ian Paisley slams Boris Johnson over north's Brexit supermarket shortages

Ian Paisley said it was "an insult to our intelligence" to say problems with supermarkets getting goods onto shelves was "a teething problem" as Boris Johnson had claimed

DUP MP Ian Paisley has criticised Boris Johnson's comment that empty supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland are down to "teething problems".

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Mr Paisley told MPs: "What did we do? What did we do to members on those benches over there to be screwed over by this Protocol?

"Ask your hearts, every single one, what did we do? Because what has happened to this Protocol it is ruined trade in Northern Ireland and it is an insult to our intelligence to say it is a teething problem. Tell that to my constituents."

He added: "This grace period needs to be extended by at least 12 months."

Former secretary of state Julian Smith echoed the call for supermarkets in the north to be given a grace period throughout 2021 to adapt to post-Brexit arrangements.

The Conservative MP said the UK and EU need to work together to resolve issues connected to the Northern Ireland Protocol, adding to Michael Gove: "Will he use his negotiating talents, the relationships he built up last year in completing the Protocol to make 2021 a grace period for supermarkets in Northern Ireland?

"I think the EU will be up for that deal, let's make it happen."

Cabinet Office minister Mr Gove, in his reply, said the Protocol is a joint responsibility and talks would be held.

Mr Gove also told MPs there is "not so much an overzealous" application of the rules by bodies, such as the Stormont Executive, but noted: "There is, in the way in which some of the rules are applied, a rigidity which we do need to address and that's why, for example, on VAT, on steel imports and on groupage we're taking the action that we are."

Labour former minister Hilary Benn asked about the potential impact on choice and prices for consumers in Northern Ireland.

He told the Commons: "(Michael Gove) has received a letter from the big supermarkets warning of the risk of further disruption to Northern Ireland food supplies from April.

"This morning, we heard evidence at the select committee from the British Retail Consortium that unless there are changes, the system will not be workable for supermarkets.

"Now, of course, he cannot guarantee that the current three-month grace period in which, for example, export health certificates are not required will be extended because it's a matter for the joint-committee.

"What will happen if it isn't and what would this mean for choice and prices for consumers in Northern Ireland?"

Mr Gove responded: "So far, in my experience, Maros Sefcovic, the vice-president of the Commission, has always taken a pragmatic approach, as indeed (Louise Haigh) reminded us, it is a responsibility of both the UK and the EU to ensure the Protocol impacts as little as possible on the lives of Northern Ireland citizens."

Shadow Secretary of State Louise Haigh said: "The disruption to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is serious and it is unacceptable.

"We have seen empty supermarket shelves, lorries from Northern Ireland stuck in Britain or returning empty, and the unnecessary checks on everything from guide dogs to people moving house."

Ms Haigh accused the Government of making "shambolic" preparations for the Northern Ireland Protocol.

She also said communities in Northern Ireland are facing "shortages and price rises" which will "only get worse unless the Government is honest about the challenges we face, engages with business and takes the urgent action that is required".

DUP Westminster leader Jeffrey Donaldson saidsSupermarkets will face a "cliff-edge" at the end of March unless a grace period where EU certification rules are relaxed is extended.

Responding to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, Sir Jeffrey told the Commons: "I have to say to him that perhaps the difficulties being encountered by Northern Ireland consumers and businesses are much greater than maybe he recognises."

He added: "We need immediate intervention on this matter. It is important for our economy. It is impacting on the economy of Northern Ireland and it is resulting, in some instances, in a diversion of trade.

"So, we do need steps taken to address what is now becoming a cliff-edge at the end of March for our supermarkets and others, and I welcome what the minister has said in terms of the ongoing discussions, but we need an assurance that this is going to be resolved before the end of March or that the grace period is extended further."

Earlier today, British Retail Consortium director Andrew Opie said the problems which had resulted in a shortage of some food products following the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31 had largely been overcome.

But giving evidence to the Commons Brexit Committee, he said there could be fresh difficulties in April when a series of exemptions in the trade deal on goods being moved to Northern Ireland from Great Britain comes to an end.

"If we do not find a workable solution for retailers in the next couple of months we do face significant disruption in Northern Ireland," he said.

Mr Opie said that supermarkets which exported to the Republic of Ireland had found the system was "unworkable" as far as their supply chains were concerned.

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