Empty shelves in Northern Ireland are due to coronavirus issues and not Brexit - Brandon Lewis

Empty shelves have been seen in supermarkets. Picture by Mal McCann
Paul Ainsworth and PA

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has said any empty shelves in Northern Ireland are due to coronavirus issues and not because of Brexit.

He told Sky News: “The unfettered access was always about Northern Ireland businesses into Great Britain – yes there is.

“The flow of food and goods linked to the EU and the Northern Ireland Protocol has been good actually.

“Where we’ve seen some images of empty shelves in Northern Ireland – although let’s be clear we’ve seen them across the UK recently – has been linked to Covid and some of the challenges we’ve had at Dover due to Covid just before Christmas and the flow through the supply line of that rather than through the protocol.

“Supermarkets we’ve been talking to regularly have good flows of supply and that’s important to Northern Ireland, being an integral part of the United Kingdom.”

Yesterday, Agriculture minister Edwin Poots again raised the possibility of food shortages in the north as a result of the new Irish Sea border.

The DUP minister has criticised the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement's Northern Ireland Protocol, which has led to a trade barrier between the north and Britain, and claimed it could lead to food shortages in schools and hospitals.

Despite both the Departments of Education and Health dismissing the claim on food supplies last week, Mr Poots has again suggested schools and hospitals could suffer shortages from April, when the three-month "grace period" on the regulation on goods being transported here from Britain ends.

He also warned that processed goods like jelly or gravy, produced in Britain, could be unavailable on supermarket shelves here in future.

"We need common sense, particularly from the EU," Mr Poots said.

"We need a message going out from all of our companies that we do not need barriers which are going to put costs on."

The minister said last week that a "major crisis" faced the economy here once the grace period ends, as a result of the red tape now required to ship goods.

However, the Departments of Health and Education suggested "minor delays" were instead expected.

Speaking yesterday in the Assembly, deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill admitted there has been "trading adjustment shocks and delays" relating to the NI Protocol, but went on to say the claims of Mr Poots were "not correct".

She said: "Our ports are under pressure. I hope that we can find solutions to many of these things."

Ms O'Neill said the ongoing issues would be examined at committee level in order for resolutions to be reached.

Referring to the Agriculture minister's claims, she added: "I am glad to say that some of the commentary around food shortages, for example, is not correct. We have a very good flow of trade in food. It is restored almost to how it was prior to the end of the transition period."

Brandon Lewis tweeted on January 1 that there was 'no Irish Sea border'

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