No-deal Brexit: Northern Ireland ‘lacks capacity to issue food trade paperwork’ if UK crashes out of EU

‘A whole new group of certificates will be needed for retail distribution, for things like sandwiches, pizzas, cream buns, anything that contains milk – that’s completely new work,’ says chief vet

Jon Sharman
Thursday 03 October 2019 06:40 BST
Boris Johnson sets out 'compromise' Brexit proposals to Brussels

Northern Ireland’s agriculture department has warned that it will not be able to provide the necessary paperwork for trade to continue as normal in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Life will become significantly more complicated for “local butchers selling sausage rolls into the local filling station” as officials struggle to issue hundreds of thousands of extra export certificates under a crash-out scenario, it said.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) announced its plans to manage the needs of the agri-food sector if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, just a day after Boris Johnson revealed his own proposals for a Brexit border deal.

In a no-deal scenario, the potential demand for Export Health Certificates (EHCs) could jump from 18,000 to 1.9 million, a need that DAERA said it may not be able to meet.

An EHC is an official document signed by a vet or qualified person to verify that food or animals for export meet the health and safety requirements in their destination country - here, the EU, of which the Republic of Ireland is a member.

No-deal Brexit would force DAERA to issue EHCs to allow food retail and distribution into the EU, which at the moment is not necessary. The department estimated the workload would account for approximately three-quarters of new certification requirements.

Dr Robert Huey, Northern Ireland’s chief veterinary officer, said: “Anyone who wishes to move live animals or agri-food to the EU including the Republic of Ireland, will need an EHC.

“That’s anything from dogs, horses, all food containing milk, cheese, eggs, when they’re talking about regulatory controls in the single market, this is what they mean.

“A whole new group of certificates will be needed for retail distribution, for things like sandwiches, pizzas, cream buns, anything that contains milk product will need a certificate – that’s completely new work. We have scaled up as much as possible but still, demand may exceed capacity.

“Very small businesses which are registered and approved because they’re currently in the EU and single market and in the region of the border can sell products to the south without controls.

“For instance, local butchers selling sausage rolls into the local filling station, they won’t be able do that anymore in a no-deal scenario, until they get approved so they need to speak to us.”

Although the 1.9 million figure is an estimate, the department projects that the actual demand will depend on the ability of businesses to maintain their existing trade contracts. It is feared that some businesses will be forced to cease trading on the continent.

On Wednesday Mr Johnson sent his proposals for a new Brexit deal to Brussels, which would eliminate the backstop mechanism and replace it with two borders. Customs checks would be made on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the Republic, while a regulatory control border would be created in the Irish Sea for goods leaving the UK mainland.

Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, welcomed the appearance of a concrete offer as “progress”, but warned that “a lot of work” remained to be done and Guy Verhofstadt said many in the European Parliament feared the scheme did not offer enough of a safeguard for Ireland. There was scepticism on both sides of the Irish border, though the DUP backed Mr Johnson.

Additional reporting by PA

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