Ireland’s government is open to “modest extensions or grace periods” for implementing trade elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol, but will not enter into wholesale renegotiation on the agreement.
The country’s foreign minister Simon Coveney said the Protocol was working but acknowledged some problems in implementation, the Irish Times reports.
Tensions over the Protocol have arisen with businesses, in particular supermarkets, reporting difficulties in preparing for new checks despite being given a grace period until 1 April.
This has meant a delay to the EU’s usual certification requirements for products of animal origin – namely meat, fish, dairy and eggs – entering a territory that sits within its customs union.
As GB is now a ‘third country’ outside the EU’s customs union, with NI remaining within it, Export Health Certificates (EHCs) issued by vets for products of animal origin moving from GB to NI will be required once the grace period ends on 31 March.
Letter to the EC
After complaints by retailers and food producers, Cabinet minister Michael Gove last week sent a strongly-worded letter to the European Commission containing six demands for changes to the Protocol.
These include an extension of current grace periods until 2023 on EU certification requirements.
Signs of tension broke out last week when customs staff at Larne and Belfast ports were stood down due to “sinister behaviour”, the Guardian reported, with trucks having to be waved through without checks.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the UK could use the emergency powers included in the Protocol under Article 16 to maintain the free flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The clause allows either the UK or EU to suspend the Protocol’s rules in the event of ‘economic, societal or environmental difficulties’.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the Democratic Unionist Party is urging the UK government to scrap the Protocol altogether.
The Daily Telegraph reports the party is making political moves to undermine it, including a boycott on engagement with the Irish government on issues related to its operation and a vow to oppose any protocol-related legislation at the Assembly.
Coveney defended the Protocol saying: “My job and the job of the EU Commission is to make sure the Protocol works as smoothly as it can.
“I am open to advocating for modest extensions or grace periods when appropriate to try to reassure people we are listening to them and, secondly, to ensure that business can operate as best they can under the Protocol.”
Irish base for EU
Meanwhile, the Grocer reports that one of the UK’s largest cheesemakers, Wyke Farms, has set up an operation in EU member Ireland to streamline exports to the bloc and assist rival cheesemakers in avoiding Brexit-linked disruption.
The Somerset-based supplier has set up an Irish company to continue accessing the EU and is “open for business” as a consolidator via third party storage sites in France and Germany, said MD Rich Clothier.
The operation will be run from a new export centre at Wyke’s Wincanton distribution site. A team of six will help with export documentation and a chilled dispatch store that allows for the distribution of Wyke’s cheese and the consolidation “of complex multi-product export orders” from other suppliers.
By consolidating loads, the company hopes to bring costs and administration down for small firms looking to export.