Brexit: NI business leaders ‘positive but guarded’ on deal

Publishedduration8 minutes ago

image copyrightReuters

image captionA grace period will ensure Northern Ireland’s food supplies will not be disrupted

Northern Ireland’s business leaders have given a guarded welcome to news of a “grace period” to ensure food supplies from GB to NI do not face disruption from 1 January.

The three-month window is part of the agreement between the UK and EU.

It determines how the new Irish Sea border will operate after Brexit.

There has been a mixed reaction among political parties, but business organisations have broadly hailed it as a positive step.

image captionMr Connolly said this was no end result but the baseline for further deliberations

Aodhán Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium said the agreement “removed one source of friction” – but that there were still challenges ahead.

“Since the signing of the Withdrawal Agreement, we have been clear that the Northern Ireland Protocol was better than no deal,” Mr Connolly said.

“However, to protect Northern Ireland households from unaffordable price rises and availability issues there needs to be a long-term workable solution that removes the myriad sources of friction.”

He pointed out that there were just 22 days before the UK left the EU and retailers remained unsure about exact ways to move food to Northern Ireland.

Mr Connolly said the details of the agreement needed to be the baseline for further deliberations, and not the end result.

People in Northern Ireland should be allowed to trade in a way that keeps costs down and ensured continued choice for families, he added.

image copyrightPA Media

image captionTesco chairman John Allan said it would be important to see the detail

Tesco chairman John Allan called it an “important step in the right direction”.

He described the news as “an important step in the right direction” but had yet to be briefed on further detail.

Mr Allan said that the supermarket chain – which owns 56 stores in Northern Ireland – had been preparing for the worst, a no-trade deal, but he was confident Tesco would have been able to continue to supply food to NI either way

This agreement would make that deal much easier, he said, telling BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “Anything is better than nothing.”

Asked what would happen if the grace period was not extended beyond three months, he replied: “I’m quite sure we and other supermarket chains will cope.”

image copyrightPA Wire

image captionMichael Gove outlined the contents of the agreement in the House of Commons

The so-called grace period will initially be for three months, with six months guaranteed for chilled meat products, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove has said.

Unionist parties in Northern Ireland, opposed to the Protocol as they argue the divide it creates between NI and the rest of the UK poses a risk to the union.

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