Brexit: UK extends Irish Sea border grace periods

Brexit: UK extends Irish Sea border grace periods

The UK government is to unilaterally extend grace periods for Irish Sea border checks.

Northern Ireland has remained a part of the EU’s single market for goods so products arriving from GB undergo EU import procedures.

The grace periods mean procedures and checks are not yet fully applied.

The first of these periods is set to expire at the end of March, but the UK says they will now be extended until October.

The EU has not yet commented on the move.

It affects supermarkets and other retailers which faced having to provide Export Health Certificates for all shipments of animal products.

In a statement the government said: “For supermarkets and their suppliers, as part of the operational plan the UK committed to at the UK-EU Joint Committee on 24 February, the current Scheme for Temporary Agri-food Movements to Northern Ireland will continue until 1 October.

“Certification requirements will then be introduced in phases alongside the roll out of the Digital Assistance Scheme.”

It is understood the government is describing this to the EU as an “operational easement” rather than a formal extension of the grace period.

It is using the example of how the Irish government temporarily relaxed safety and security declarations on products arriving from GB in January.

Theresa May’s former Brexit adviser, Raoul Ruparel, tweeted that it is “hard to see how this is allowed under the Protocol.

“I suspect UK gamble is that because its temporary & part of step to full requirements the scope for EU objection/action is limited,” he said.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has criticised the move.

“The EU and the British government need to work together and this appears to be another unilateral attempt to override what has been agreed,” she said.

“What everyone should be focused on is achieving agreement to find solutions to the issues that are outstanding, but it’s very clear the protocol must be made to work.”

Aodhán Connolly of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said it would allow “us to continue to give Northern Ireland households the choice and affordability they need”.

Extending the grace periods delivered “short-term stability,” he added.

“We now need the EU and the UK to show that they have the political will to live up to their side of the bargain by delivering a pragmatic, workable, risk-based solution.”

The government said further guidance will be provided later this week on a grace period for parcel movements from GB to NI.

It is due to to end on 1 April meaning all parcels would need customs declarations.

Guidance will also be set out in regard to the issue of soil attached to the movement of plants, seeds, bulbs, vegetables and agricultural machinery.

Under the terms of the NI Brexit deal soil from GB is not permitted to enter NI as it conflicts with EU plant regulations.

Speaking earlier in the House of Commons, NI Secretary Brandon Lewis said the UK would hold an informal meeting with European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič later on Wednesday.

Mr Šefčovič is the EU’s representative on the Joint Committee, the EU-UK body which oversees the NI Brexit deal.

The BBC has asked the European Commission for comment.

Appearing after Brandon Lewis, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs that Northern Ireland’s position within the UK internal market was “rock solid and guaranteed”.

He said the government would underscore that with the operational “easings” to protect food supplies and other areas, pending further discussions with the EU.

But, responding to a question from DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, he repeated that the government would “leave nothing off the table to ensure we get this right”.

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