Government confirms no delay, despite demands from businesses and farmers in Northern Ireland.
Checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea into Northern Ireland will be imposed from 1 January with no delays in implementation of Brexit protocols, despite protests from local businesses and farming leaders, the government has confirmed.
Local businesses implored EU leaders last month to delay the new trading arrangements, saying they were being given weeks to prepare for a new system that would normally take up to 18 months.
But the Cabinet Office confirmed after a meeting between Michael Gove and the European commission vice-president, Maroš Šefčovič, in Brussels on Monday that there would be no grace period.
Businesses had argued that the rest of the country was being given six months to get used to the changes, with new customs and standards checks in Dover and other ports being phased in over three stages between January and July.
They said they were like the “rope in a tug of war” between the UK and the EU and warned of a “huge black hole” in information and a “disconnect” with Westminster and Brussels over the reality of Brexit checks beginning in just 24 days’ time.
The head of the Ulster Farmers’ Union said it was only now sinking in that British businesses wanting to sell goods such as farm machinery needed to get special trading numbers, known as EORI numbers, that were specifically for Northern Ireland.
And last week it emerged that four in 10 food suppliers said they would pause or reduce supply of produce to Northern Ireland because of the checks, which kick in whether or not there is a deal.
The Cabinet Office said “further measures to support agrifood traders will be announced shortly” and that it was “working to resolve all outstanding issues for supermarkets and other traders through the joint committee”.
More than 30 business and civic society leaders issued a statement on Monday urging the EU and the UK to conclude a trade deal, saying “a no-deal outcome would place NI under unbearable and unnecessary strain at a time of crisis”.
They reaffirmed their commitment to the protocol, but said they had “neither the technical detail nor the time to be ready” for 1 January.
Stephen Farry, an Alliance party MP, asked the government again on Monday to ensure that the UK and the EU considered a grace period, telling Penny Mordaunt, the paymaster general, that businesses “simply don’t have the time any longer to prepare for 1 January”.
Before his meeting with Gove on Monday, Šefčovič said the UK-EU joint committee, which was set up to implement January’s withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, was “working hard to make sure it is fully operational as of 1 January 2021”.
At the same time, the government announced that it would be prepared to drop the controversial Brexit clauses from the internal market bill if solutions in relation to free flow of trade with Northern Ireland were agreed.
Theresa May’s Europe adviser, Raoul Ruparel, said the incendiary clauses were deployed to create leverage in the trade talks, designed to demonstrate to the EU the negative consequences of a no-deal scenario.