Northern Ireland news

Boris Johnson claims Brexit 'teething problems' can be fixed as Ian Paisley says Northern Ireland 'screwed over'

Boris Johnson meeting Ian Paisley during the prime minister’s visit to Wrightbus in Co Antrim in February 2016

THE DUP has claimed Northern Ireland has been "screwed over" by a border in the Irish Sea, with senior MPs hitting out at Boris Johnson and major business groups over trade.

In an extraordinary speech in the Commons yesterday, North Antrim MP Ian Paisley claimed the north's trade had been "ruined" by the Northern Ireland Protocol - part of the Brexit agreement between the EU and UK which keeps the north in the EU's customs union for goods.

His colleague Sammy Wilson also said in a statement: "It gives us no pleasure to say – 'We told you so.'"

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And he hit out the Alliance Party, SDLP and Sinn Féin for defending the Protocol.

"Equally, those industry groups and spokespeople in Manufacturing NI, the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, Chambers of Commerce, the CBI, the IoD, the FSB and others, who pleaded for special arrangements for Northern Ireland to avoid any disruption on their miniscule trade with the Irish Republic, are now beginning to realise the folly of the strategy that has led us here," he said.

Trade from Britain to the north, including essential food supplies, has been severely disrupted since the Protocol kicked in on January 1, with many shoppers witnessing empty supermarket shelves.

Although a three-month grace period was introduced in the new year for businesses in Britain sending parcels to customers in Northern Ireland, most business to business shipments now require a customs declaration.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was assured goods were flowing "effectively" from Britain to the north.

But Mr Paisley said the comment was "an insult".

"I must ask, what did we do to members on those benches over there to be screwed over by this protocol?" he told the Commons.

"It has ruined trade in Northern Ireland and it's an insult to our intelligence to say it's a teething problem."

Some customers of Sainsbury's and other major supermarkets have experienced empty shelves due to post-Brexit trade problems. Picture by Mal McCann

The UK's major supermarkets, including Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's, wrote to the British government on Tuesday to warn that "urgent intervention" is needed to prevent further disruption to the north's food supplies.

The government has already set up a dedicated team to work with the supermarkets and the north's Executive.

"The grace period for supermarkets and their suppliers is working well, goods continue to flow effectively between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and we are working intensively with industry as new requirements come in," a spokeswoman said.

But DUP Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the Commons yesterday his constituents had experienced "empty supermarket shelves".

And he said some customs declarations were taking 12 hours to be processed.

Mr Johnson admitted there were "teething problems" but insisted goods were flowing "in normal volumes"

"There are teething problems ... but I can confirm ... that if there are problems that we believe are disproportionate then we will have no hesitation in invoking Article 16," he told the Commons.

Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol allows either the UK or EU to take unilateral measures if there is an unexpected negative effect arising from the agreement.

Mr Wilson said Article 16 should be triggered "if the EU refuse to make the changes needed to mitigate against internal trade disruption and friction".

However, Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard said empty shelves were caused by the British government not giving businesses enough time to prepare for the "biggest rupture in trading procedures in decades".

The Ulster Unionists have also called on Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to extend the three-month grace period for businesses to up to 12 months.

MLA John Stewart said in a letter: "We have been engaging with Northern Ireland’s biggest wholesalers and it is clear to us that what we are witnessing are not just teething problems, but rather systemic problems.

"The message that we are hearing is that as the grace period and lighter touch checks come to an end, the situation will become unbearable and unworkable.

"Rather than it being a case of having confidence that businesses will adapt, we fear that many will adapt by opting out of supplying products to Northern Ireland altogether."

Meanwhile, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has warned people in the Republic that if they use an online teleconsultation to get their prescription, even if it is via an Irish website, if the prescriber is based in the UK the prescription will not be valid.

Hard copies of prescriptions from a face-to-face consultation with a UK-based prescriber are still allowed post-Brexit.

But online prescriptions from UK-based prescribers, including those in the north, are no longer valid in the Republic and cannot be dispensed by a pharmacist in the state.

IPU Secretary General Darragh O'Loughlin said people are increasingly using online medical consultations since the pandemic.

"Brexit-related issues with a prescription is the last thing our patients need, so it is really important people understand this change," he said.

Read more: DUP's Sammy Wilson should apologise for 'go to the chippy' remark says SNP

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