Brexit Tensions In Ireland As Supermarket Shelves Sit Empty

When it comes to Brexit on the island of Ireland, the optics matter. And in the last couple of weeks, they haven’t been great. 

Supermarket shelves sitting empty in the North; log-jammed lorry parks in the South. 

A piece of Brexit paperwork — the Northern Ireland protocol — is to blame. Designed to avoid the return of commercial checkpoints across the island, the protocol sees Northern Ireland remain aligned with the EU single market, allowing goods to pass freely to-and-from the Irish Republic. 

The catch: an effective customs border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland down the Irish Sea. This has slowed — and in some cases, curtailed — the flow of deliveries to Belfast, Ballymena, and beyond. At Dublin Port, through which a significant chunk of the North’s trade passes, freight is moving at a glacial pace.

A catalogue of new documentary checks lurk behind the slowdown. With Brexit, U.K. businesses selling to the EU (and vice versa) must make import and security declarations, confirming the origin of their products. The frictionless trade that has underpinned U.K.-Ireland commerce for a quarter-century is well and truly gone.

When it comes to the movement of food, this is particularly true. Items of plant and animal origin are subject to an added layer of regulatory checks, with veterinary inspectors required to certify a consignment’s contents. This can be a cumbersome process — hence the sorry sight of empty supermarket shelves.  

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It is but “teething problems,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson; a slightly rough ride in the first official fortnight of Brexit. 

The U.K.’s top supermarket chains don’t exactly agree. An “urgent intervention” is needed to prevent further disruption to Northern Ireland’s food supply, the heads of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Iceland, Co-Op and Marks & Spencer told the government this week. 

There are particular concerns around what happens in April when more strenuous tests on food and agricultural products come into force. At that juncture, it may prove uneconomic for stores to operate in Northern Ireland, raising the spectre of price hikes, or even closures.

That seems unlikely, though — the Brexit process has been pockmarked with challenges, but a solution is almost always found. Indeed, though unsettling, the reports of empty shelves weren’t ubiquitous, and it seems shoppers weren’t put at too great an inconvenience.

But the episode belies a deeper issue.

Ireland, commercially speaking, is no longer split North-South but East-West, with a line drawn between the island and Great Britain. That’s hugely symbolic.   

While Brexit has undoubtedly inflamed age-old political divides in Ireland, there’s little question that the island is now more economically united than at any other time in the last century.

Small wonder the co-ruling Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) — who, this year, will celebrate one hundred years of Northern Ireland’s continued place within the U.K. — was incandescent at the supermarket debacle. 

“[The protocol] has ruined trade in Northern Ireland and it’s an insult to our intelligence to say it’s a teething problem,” fumed DUP lawmaker Ian Paisley Jr in parliament on Wednesday.

His party is pushing for the activation of Article 16 — a safeguard that allows the U.K. (or EU) to act unilaterally if measures imposed as a result of the protocol are deemed to be causing “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties.” The government has said it won’t hesitate to do so if required, but argues that there hasn’t yet been the need. 

Northern Ireland’s Nationalist movement would tend to agree. Triggering Article 16 would be reckless, senior Sinn Féin figures have said, while Stephen Farry, deputy leader of the Alliance Party, this week dismissed DUP fears that schools and hospitals might face food shortages as “scaremongering on steroids.” 

Whether that’s right or wrong — and even if commercial hurdles are cleared in the coming months — Brexit’s constitutional ramifications for Ireland are gathering pace. Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out some of my other work here.

Alasdair Lane

 Alasdair Lane

I’m a U.K.-based journalist who’s worked at the sharp end of political broadcasting in Westminster, experienced the Brexit brouhaha up close, and interviewed some of the biggest names in U.K. and European policymaking. After a stint as editor of my undergraduate student newspaper, I found myself in London writing for, among others, The Independent. 

As the 2015 General Election approached, I took on a producer role at Sky News, working across the channel and on multiple platforms. Inspired by the heady political times, I moved to Sky’s Westminster studio shortly after, becoming a political news editor. 

The intense, fast-paced posting saw me direct the daily political coverage, produce content going out live, and interview some of the era’s biggest political hitters. 

Returning to my writing roots, I continue to focus on British and E.U. politics, as well as dabbling in wider foreign affairs.

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Daily Mail

Chief executives of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Iceland, Co-Op and Marks & Spencer have written to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove. Depleted shelves have been seen in several supermarkets in the early days of the new year as trade from Britain has been affected while firms adjust to new requirements on moving produce across the Irish Sea. Export health certificates are required for animal-based food products moving from Britain into Northern Ireland as a result of the region remaining in the EU’s single market for goods. Original Article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/artic… Original Video: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/news… Daily Mail Facebook: http://facebook.com/dailymail Daily Mail IG: http://instagram.com/dailymail Daily Mail Snap: https://www.snapchat.com/discover/Dai… Daily Mail Twitter: http://twitter.com/MailOnline Daily Mail Pinterest: http://pinterest.co.uk/dailymail Daily Mail Google+: https://plus.google.com/+DailyMail Get the free Daily Mail mobile app: http://dailymail.co.uk/mobile

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