Brexit 'not to blame' for supply crisis says Andrew Bridgen
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Ireland’s deputy prime minister disputed Downing Street’s complaints that the Brexit deal’s protocol to avoid a hard border has caused food shortages in the region. In a provocative move, Mr Varadkar pointed to the recent shortages suffered by fast-food chains in England, Scotland and Wales, which aren’t covered by the measures. UK and EU officials are currently at loggerheads over how to make the Northern Ireland Protocol work after months of disruptions and tensions.
Mr Varadkar was in Northern Ireland for talks with senior politicians in the area in the hope of finding a compromise to end the chaos.
He also met with business representatives during his two-day trip north of the border.
Mr Varadkar suggested that both Ireland and England had also been hit by trade disruption after No10 complained the Northern Ireland Protocol had caused unprecedented issues in the area.
“We know in England where Nando’s are having trouble getting staff, McDonald’s are having trouble getting milkshakes, there is trouble getting hauliers, and the Protocol doesn’t apply to England, yet they are having those problems too,” he fumed.
“I think some of the problems put down to the protocol are actually problems related to Brexit, that are experienced in the Republic and in England as well.”
In a bid to deescalate tensions, Mr Varadkar said Dublin nor the EU had ever wanted trade barriers to form between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
He also suggested that Brussels would be willing to extend a number of grace periods from EU red tape that are due to expire at the end of the month.
The protocol to avoid a hard border has been hugely controversial since it entered into force at the beginning of the year.
Downing Street has warned that its measures have had a chilling effect on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Unionists have said the rules, which have essentially introduced a trade barrier in the Irish Sea, have driven a wedge between the region and the rest of the UK.
In order to keep the Irish border open, Northern Ireland essentially has remained within the single market, with a number of checks on goods shipped from mainland Britain.
Both the UK and EU have published plans for simplifying the terms of the protocol.
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Talks are expected to be held this month to address the concerns ahead of the expiration of a number of grace periods from EU red tape.
Northern Ireland’s economy minister Gordon Lyons this week called for further delays to the Irish Sea checks.
He said there would be “real problems” if the grace periods expire as planned on October 1.
The UK’s so-called “Command Paper” called for the entire Protocol to be renegotiated to remove the majority of checks between GB-NI, as well as erase the European Court of Justice’s powers over the measures.
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But Brussels has rejected any renegotiation and insisted fixes can be found within the existing treaty text.
The grace periods due to expire include the controversial ban on British-made chilled meats from being sold in Northern Ireland.
If a fix is not found this could mean the sale of British sausages and burgers in the region is prohibited.
Another concern is the need for supermarkets to start using export health certificates for all products of animal origin shipped from GB to NI.
Mr Lyons warned this would significantly increase the administrative burden and risk food shortages.
“There will be real problems for our supplies particularly in terms of food,” he said.
Aodhan Connolly, of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said businesses were not prepared for the end of the grace periods.
He said: “It was put in place to allow a new system to come in that would remove friction from moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
“That isn’t in place and so we need a standstill.
“Otherwise there will be new certification required that will need signed off by a vet.
“That means friction, which means costs that neither retailers nor Northern Ireland householders can afford.”
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