Brexit hurdles in Northern Ireland: supermarkets warn of empty shelves

Brexit is showing its first consequences in Northern Ireland. There are shortages in the delivery of certain foods in some parts of the British province. Large retail chains have now made a dramatic appeal to London.

The exit of Great Britain from the EU internal market shows the first consequences in Northern Ireland: empty supermarket shelves. The big chains Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Iceland, Co-Op and Marks & Spencer have now issued a letter to the British government warning of food shortages.

The government in London must intervene urgently to prevent a “significant supply disruption” in the coming months, said the heads of the retail chains in a letter to Cabinet Minister Michael Gove.

In the meantime there are increasing difficulties in trading

Great Britain had finally left the EU internal market and the European customs union at the turn of the year. At the same time, a trade agreement negotiated between the EU and London came into force on January 1, which allows both sides to trade and exchange goods without quotas and tariffs.

But it’s not as smooth and, above all, unbureaucratic as it was before Brexit. There are now increasing difficulties in trade due to customs regulations, food safety regulations and VAT.

Problems with imports from the UK

Northern Ireland is particularly badly affected. Transitional rules still apply to the British province in order to avoid a hard border with the EU member Ireland. However, the shelves of some supermarkets in Northern Ireland are already empty due to the difficulty of importing fresh goods from the UK due to new bureaucratic hurdles.

Because Northern Ireland is in a special situation: the province is part of the United Kingdom, but according to the exit agreement it is treated according to the rules of the EU customs union and the internal market. This is to prevent a hard border with the EU member Republic of Ireland and a flare-up of the Northern Ireland conflict.

But that also means that the movement of goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain must be controlled, from customs declarations to health certificates for animal food products.

In view of the grace period ending on March 31st for simplified controls on food deliveries from the EU to Northern Ireland, the retail chains are now calling for an early agreement on a long-term solution with the EU, more time to build the new system and help with coping the new bureaucratic hurdles. Otherwise, delivery bottlenecks are inevitable.

“From color to black and white television”

UK Food and Beverage Association Chairman Ian Wright told a House of Commons committee that Northern Ireland was about to go back to “from color to black and white” in terms of food diversity.

He knew from a large British company that preparations for an export to the EU, which took three hours before Brexit, now take five days. That has to change. “If we don’t see progress, costs will go up. Choice will decrease and so will quality,” he warned. That is not good for anyone.

The UK government said it has formed a team that is working with the supermarkets, the food industry and the executive branch in Northern Ireland to solve the problems.


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