Publishedduration5 hours ago
image captionSupermarkets in NI have been granted a ‘grace period’ to avoid disruption following Brexit
The UK government is working to ensure a “grace period” for supermarkets in NI can be extended to independent food retailers, the NI secretary has said.
Last week, supermarkets operating in NI heard that they would be given extra time to phase in new checks.
It will ensure food supplies from GB to Northern Ireland do not face disruption from 1 January – whether or not there is a Brexit deal.
As Brexit talks continue, Brandon Lewis moved to reassure smaller businesses.
They are concerned that the big supermarkets have been handed a huge advantage in the run-up to Brexit.
“Our view is that the grace period should apply to retailers moving their products from GB into NI,” the NI secretary said.
“We are working to get that clarity as quickly as possible.”
.@BrandonLewis admits on @BBCgmu only supermarkets will benefit from the grace period allowing goods to move freely between NI and GB, independent retail food operators will not benefit unless agreement can be reached with EU
— Enda McClafferty (@endamcclafferty) December 14, 2020
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
The news about supermarkets last week was part of the agreement reached between the UK and EU on how the new Irish Sea border will operate.
It will allow supermarkets to adapt their systems to deal with new Brexit controls required by the EU.
The rules will apply whether or not the two sides can agree a trade deal.
image captionBrandon Lewis said negotiations to find a permanent solution were under way
The so-called “grace period” will initially be for three months, with six months guaranteed for chilled meat products.
But smaller retailers were left waiting for clarification on whether this would apply to them.
Speaking to BBC NI’s Good Morning Ulster on Monday, the Northern Ireland secretary said that a key sentence in the protocol signed by both the government and the EU makes it clear that the everyday lives of people in their communities should not be disrupted.
“Having a good free flow of food is an important part of that,” he said.
Mr Lewis said he accepted that businesses wanted certainty.
But added that negotiations were under way to get the right and permanent solution that works for both the UK and the EU.
The Northern Ireland secretary said Brexit was “a huge opportunity… a huge positive”.
“Northern Ireland is the one place in the world for businesses to be able to trade freely as part of the UK with mainland GB and Northern Ireland,