Agreement over Northern Ireland Protocol a vital step forward, says CIEH

09 December 2020, Ross Matthewman

CIEH has welcomed the agreement between the UK and the EU over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol as part of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Earlier today, Michael Gove MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, told the House of Commons that the agreement with EU met the UK’s key commitments:

  • Ensuring that Northern Irish businesses retained unfettered access to the rest of the UK market 
  • Northern Ireland’s place in the UK customs territory is protected, meaning goods staying in the UK are not subject to tariffs
  • Ensuring that Great Britain-NI trade flows will not be disrupted and maintaining a smooth flow of trade with no need for new physical customs infrastructure 

The agreement means that supermarkets will be given extra time to phase in new checks, ensuring food supplies from Great Britain to Northern Ireland do not face disruption from 1 January 2021 - whether or not there is a Brexit deal. However, there is an expectation that supermarkets in Northern Ireland will increasingly have to source their produce “locally and from the Republic of Ireland” 

The UK and EU have also agreed a trusted trader scheme, which means all goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will not face any tariffs.

It is being reported that Northern Ireland supermarkets will comply with EU food safety rules through a UK declaration that it will not change its food safety rules from 1 January; essentially sticking to EU standards. 

In addition, newspaper reports suggest that the agreed trusted trader scheme would be subject to a review, or sunset clause, three and a half years after the Protocol comes into effect. 

It is anticipated that chilled meats, sausages, mince and unfrozen prepared meals, which are currently restricted from entering the EU from third countries, will be allowed pending a review by both sides.

Gary McFarlane, CIEH Director, said:

“The issue of food and trade is of vital importance to Northern Ireland, and we have been vocal in calling the UK and the EU to come to an agreement that allows for produce and goods to continue to be able to move as freely as possible between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  

This agreement shows that the realities of the situation are finally being accepted. Failing to come to an agreement on the implementation of the Protocol would have led to chaos at the border and ports, seriously disrupted Northern Ireland’s food supplies, and caused untold damage to the Nation’s businesses. 

We have repeatedly called for the UK to maintain its current food and environmental standards, however, whilst the UK Government is apparently prepared to make a declaration committing to maintain these standards, we are concerned that it is still refusing to enshrine these in law. We would once again call on the UK Government to do so and thereby not only uphold our excellent food and animal welfare standards, but send a clear statement of our intent to those we hope to continue future trade with.

The trusted trade system is a welcome development and will allow food to continue to flow in and out of Northern Ireland. There needs to be sufficient time to iron any issues out. And we very much welcome the suggestion of a much more locally sourced food supply chain. This is, in principle a significant step towards sustainability and better food security., However, it will take time to develop. There are no quick fixes.”

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