Northern Ireland risks instability in the food supply from Brexit, MPs say

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Trucks arriving at UK ports lack paperwork to enter region, business leaders say

Northern Ireland is facing disruptions in food supplies because suppliers in Britain don’t know what Brexit-related paperwork is required to send goods to the region, business leaders said.Trucks are arriving at British ports with incorrect or missing documents, delaying their passage across the Irish Sea, they told MPs Wednesday. Many business leaders in the U.K. seemed unaware that Northern Ireland has been applying EU customs rules at its ports since 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, meaning goods crossing the Irish Sea from other parts of the U.K. are subject to customs checks, Seamus Leheny of freight trade organization Logistics UK told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. “We’ve had trucks arriving in Belfast without any documentation … that’s because of the lack of preparation on the British side,” he said. “At one major manufacturer, 15 trucks of food destined for Northern Ireland got stuck because they didn’t have customs declarations, Leheny said. He cited another company that sent 285 trucks to the U.K., but only 100 of them returned, disrupting supply chains.

Leheny said ports and customs officials were working hard and flexibly to minimize disruption, but he urged the government to improve communications so freight forwarders are not left to deal with paperwork alone.Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, told MPs that authorities in Belfast and London needed to “shout from the rooftops” so suppliers and parcel services understood the new rules. “This is a very turbulent time when decisions need to be made quickly,” he said.Sainsbury’s has been forced to stock some of its Northern Ireland supermarket shelves with Spar-branded products.

Shoppers at Tesco and other chains reported empty shelves in some departments, especially for refrigerated foods.England, Scotland and Wales left the EU’s single market for goods on Dec. 31, but Northern Ireland did not. Ian Paisley, a Democratic Unionist Party MP, said the special arrangements for the region had been a “disaster” and justified scrapping the Northern Ireland Protocol, which cleared the way for the final Brexit agreement between London and Brussels. Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland minister, told BBC Radio Ulster that businesses would adjust to the changes. “I think people will see when things settle down that things will be like they were in 2020.”

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