Thursday, January 14, 2021

Northern Ireland’s Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has claimed the region’s hospitals and schools risk running out of food when post-Brexit Irish Sea trade arrangements are fully implemented.

A grace period that limits the level of red tape required to move retail food products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland runs out at the end of March.

Once that exemption expires supermarkets will have to comply with more rigorous animal health certification processes under the terms of Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

“It was made very clear to us by the suppliers to both hospitals and schools that if the current arrangement for supermarkets isn’t extended in a few months’ time that they will not be able to supply our hospitals and schools with food,” Mr Poots, a DUP minister, told BBC Radio Ulster.

“That is a major crisis and I have raised this with Michael Gove.

“Seriously, are we going to have a situation where our hospitals and schools are not able to feed the children at school, they’re not able to feed their patients?

“That is an outrageous situation that we in Northern Ireland have been put in as a result of the protocol negotiated between the UK Government and the European Union.”

Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard accused Mr Poots of “talking up a problem”.

“He’s peddling panic needlessly to divert the gaze of angry supporters who are angry at Irish Sea Border,” he tweeted.

‘More than teething problems’

Meanwhile, the chief executive of Retail Northern Ireland, Glyn Roberts, has appealed to the UK government to ensure that businesses and manufacturers were compliant with the new regulations introduced because of Brexit.

Mr Roberts told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that he had no doubt the current problems with supply were “more than teething problems” as had been claimed by British prime minister Boris Johnson.

However, he said he was confident that “to use an old Belfast saying, it will collapse into place”.

Many in the wholesale sector had been preparing for the changes under Brexit for some time, but he said that the issue remained a “big challenge” for many British suppliers who had not made preparations or filled out the necessary forms which was leading to delays.

It was vital the UK government reinforce the message of the importance of being compliant with the new regulations, he said.

Mr Roberts urged shoppers in the North to continue to buy as normal and not to stockpile. – Additional reporting: Vivienne Clarke

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