Brexit: Ministers have failed to answer 60 questions about chaotic new trade rules, business leader protests

Farmers and manufacturers in Northern Ireland warn of looming disaster - without a longer implementation period

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 18 November 2020 12:22
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Ministers fail to answer 60 questions on post-Brexit trade rules

Ministers have failed to answer 60 questions about chaotic new post-Brexit trade rules, a business leader has revealed – as groups in Northern Ireland warned of looming disaster.

The chief executive of Manufacturing NI sharply criticised the government for leaving firms in the dark, with just six weeks to go until the end of the transition period.

“We asked 67 questions at the beginning of the summer,” Stephen Kelly told MPs. “When we reviewed that, just a couple of weeks ago, 60 of those 67 questions remained unanswered.”

He spoke out as the Ulster Farmers’ Union warned its members had no chance of being ready for the huge changes on 1 January, telling MPs: “That's why we need an implementation, honeymoon period.”

No less than 30 per cent of Northern Ireland’s milk goes to the Republic, while 50 per cent of pigs slaughtered at its abattoirs come from the South – before being sold in the UK with British labels.

“We're now in the middle of November, we don't know what needs to be on those labels,” warned Victor Chestnutt, the farmers’ union’s president.

Mr Kelly warned the aerospace industry – which accounts for 10 per cent of Northern Ireland’s exports – was already in “deep distress at the moment”.

“If we lose that business, we lose a huge chunk of our exports overnight,” he told the Commons Brexit committee.

Mr Kelly added: “Northern Ireland's business community will not be ready for the 1st of January, quite simply. We have had no conversations with anyone about goods at risk.”

The organisations are urging the EU and the UK to delay the new rules. “We need an implementation period,” said Aodhán Connolly, the director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium.

The Northern Ireland Protocol will introduce new border controls in the Irish Sea – despite Boris Johnson’s denials and claim that they could be ignored.

If there is a no-deal Brexit, all 900,000 deliveries crossing from Great Britain every year would have to be inspected, the committee was told.

Potentially, a lorry carrying sandwiches might need a separate health certificate for every type of sandwich it is transporting.

The inquiry also heard of the complexities of trade across the Irish border to the Republic – with the ingredients for a cottage pie requiring 9 border movements and a bottle of Baileys Irish Cream five.

A survey has found that just 9 per cent of businesses in Northern Ireland are ready for the new checks – with only 39 per cent making preparations, down from 60 per cent because of Covid.

“We are hugely worried,” Mr Connolly said, warning firms were being asked to make changes that would normally take two years in just six weeks.

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