Supermarkets to get three-month 'grace period' from Northern Ireland post-Brexit checks
Supermarkets will get a three-month grace period from January 1 to help ensure food supplies between Britain and Northern Ireland are not disrupted by Brexit.
Major chains including Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's had warned they might have to reduce supplies of certain products to the north from next month.
Supermarkets had faced extra regulatory checks and certifications on animal products entering the north from Britain because, under the Northern Ireland protocol, the north will remain within the EU single market for goods.
However, under a deal agreed between the UK and European Union on Monday, supermarkets will have three months to prepare for the extra checks and paperwork, regardless of whether the UK and EU agree a trade deal.
The grace period will be extended to six months for chilled meat products including sausages and mince.
The details of the deal were announced by British minister Michael Gove in the Commons yesterday.
But some important issues remained unclear last night including whether independent traders and wholesalers were included in the grace period and whether it can be extended further.
It is understood that supermarkets in Northern Ireland may have to source chilled meat products from the north or Republic after the six month period ends.
The deal also allows suppliers of medicines, including veterinary medicines, up to 12 months to adapt to new rules under the Northern Ireland protocol. This was done to try and allay fears that vital supplies could be hit from next month.
Under the agreement, Northern Ireland businesses moving goods to Britain will not have to fill out exit summary declarations for most goods.
But the north will still have to enforce the EU's customs rules. Prior to Monday's deal, the EU had raised concerns that some goods could be sent from Britain to the north and transported on to the Republic in a bid to avoid tariffs.
There were fears that all goods coming into the north would be hit with tariffs which would then have to be rebated by the British government. This would have made trade much more complex.
However, under the deal, a trusted trader scheme will be set up to avoid tariffs on the vast majority of goods.
Under the three-and-a-half year scheme, only around 2 percent of goods are expected to be hit with tariffs, although these will be rebated by the British government.
The protocol will see the north stay within the EU's rules on state aid in a bid to protect EU trade. However, under yesterday's deal, British businesses with only a peripheral link to the north will fall outside state aid rules. The north's fishermen will also be exempt from state aid rules.
Northern Ireland will leave the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, meaning that the Executive can set agricultural subsidies.
Border checks on goods from Britain entering Northern Ireland will take place at four border control posts, understood to be Port of Larne, Foyle port, Belfast harbour and Warrenpoint port.
Mr Gove confirmed the EU would not have a permanent base in the north. But he said EU officials will be able to accompany UK officials to check the protocol is being implemented. It is understood up to 15 EU officials can carry out no-warning compliance checks. The EU will also have remote access to the UK's customs IT infrastructure so it can carry out checks remotely.