The Prime Minister today said he would not hesitate to invoke Article 16 of the NI Protocol – a safeguard clause in the Withdrawal Agreement allowing either the UK or EU to take unilateral measures if there are unexpected negative effects from the new trade arrangements.
Under the Protocol, companies sending goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland must comply with new customs requirements, including completing declarations and attaining export health certification if moving agri-food goods.
Although he admitted there had been some “teething problems” so far in the implementation of the new rules, he also said that “goods are flowing effectively and in normal volumes”.
The implementation of the NI Protocol, which began when the transition period finished on New Year’s Eve, was also discussed by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove following a question from DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.
Gove said that the protocol had generated some challenges but that the government was looking to find “pragmatic solutions to any problems that arise”.
Gove said that extensive government support for Northern Ireland included the Trader Support Scheme (TSS), which more than 25,000 businesses are now signed up to.
He said that with the support of TSS, “95% of queries have been answered within 15 minutes”.
“We still must do better in order to ensure that every business gets the support that it needs,” he added.
Donaldson also told the House that the TSS was “welcome”.
The discussion came after UK supermarkets wrote to the government calling for an “urgent intervention” to prevent further disruption to NI food supplies, the BBC reports.
The chief executives of Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, Iceland, Co-Op and Marks & Spencer had written to Gove explaining that they faced difficulties bringing goods from Britain into Northern Ireland due to new regulations from 1 January.
However, Gove said that Andrew Opie, director of the British Retail Consortium, had told a select committee earlier today “that the shortages have now been overcome”.
Gove said he would be working with the BRC to ensure that problems were solved.