Tuesday, March 9

Optimistic Northern Ireland companies will ease Brexit barriers | North Ireland

Business leaders in Northern Ireland are optimistic that Brexit barriers preventing packages, pets, potatoes and plants from reaching the region from Britain will be eased after a meeting between Michael Gove and his EU counterpart, Maroš Šefčovič. , Thursday.

They said that the UK and the EU had a legitimate reason to remove or ease the barriers because they were having an impact on everyday life, in violation of a commitment in the Northern Ireland protocol which states that “the application of this protocol should impact as little as possible on the daily life of communities in both Ireland and Northern Ireland ”.

In a joint statement, Gove and Šefčovič said they had a constructive meeting that would help guide the joint UK-EU committee, which they confirmed will meet on February 24.

Sefcovic told the BBC that he was “ready to act fast” but did not want to make excessive promises.

The disruption of parcel and supermarket deliveries in the first weeks of January and the continued refusal of some major chains to deliver in Northern Ireland have increased tensions among loyalists and are beginning to fuel resentment among the general population.

Roger Pollen, director of the region’s Small Business Federation, said Gove and Šefčovič, who chair the joint UK-EU committee tasked with implementing the Brexit deal, were told that there was a real sense of urgency to resolve the issues. .

“The problem with things like the parcel issue is that it starts to generate a lot of resentment on the street and when people here experience ‘not available in Northern Ireland’ the protocol is having an impact on the lives of the communities, ” he said.

Business leaders said they were pleasantly surprised by the understanding shown by Gove and Šefčovič after weeks of problems related to garden centers, supermarkets and municipal tree planting. It emerged on Wednesday that orders for 100,000 trees from Scotland and Wales had to be canceled due to a ban on British soil and EU bans on imports of native trees, including oak.

“The messages that we are working as hard as we can, but that we need support to make it work, really seemed to resonate with both of us,” said Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland retail consortium. “They were positive about everything we raised, which was very disarming. They are genuinely committed to working with us. “

Among the four demands made by business leaders was an extension of the April grace period for parcel and supermarket deliveries from Britain without customs declarations. A second grace period for chilled meats, including sausages, entering Northern Ireland without health checks expires in July, and business leaders are urging the EU and the UK to reconsider the issue entirely.

Stephen Kelly, CEO of Manufacturing Northern Ireland, said there seemed to be a clear understanding that the UK and the EU needed to be active on the ground to ensure the protocol worked.

The appointment of David Frost as the new Brexit minister was not raised at the meeting, but Kelly said it was imperative that he familiarize himself with the unique issues Northern Ireland presented when he succeeded Gove as co-chair of the joint committee.

“A great deal of time has been spent making sure London politicians understand the requirement for corrections. Obviously, there will be a changing of the guard in terms of the new minister responsible for these issues and it is important that they understand those concerns as quickly as Michael Gove understood them, ”he said.

In addition to an extension of grace periods, business leaders have called for measures to provide certainty through long-term solutions, simplification of border controls and mitigation to prevent rising costs for businesses and consumers in Ireland. North, which, according to them, would be discriminatory in the UK single market.

A high-ranking member of the Orange Order was among the civic leaders invited to a second meeting with the Brexit leaders of the UK and the EU. Beforehand, Mervyn Gibson said that he would tell them that the protocol must go.

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