Supermarkets get a ‘grace period – but Tesco said it’s ‘stockpiling’
Northern Ireland’s supermarkets will be permitted to keep supplying Northern Ireland shoppers without special Brexit checks that will kick in, deal or no deal, on 1 January.
In a concession by the EU, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Asda and other trusted traders in the food sector will be given a grace period before checks apply.
Tesco had said that it was stockpiling food ahead of a potential no-deal Brexit. It’s chairman John Allan said that import taxes could push up the price of certain cheeses by as much as 40%.
Mr Allan said Tesco was able to stockpile what he called “longer-life food”, but there could be temporary shortages of “short-life fresh foods.
“We are trying to ensure that we have stockpiled as much as we can of long-life products either in our own warehouses or with our suppliers.”
Cabinet Minister Michael Gove said the government had heard “loud and clear” the concerns of supermarket firms and that “necessary additional flexibilities” would be made.
The so-called grace period will initially be for three months, with six months guaranteed for chilled meat products, he said.
From 1 January, Northern Ireland will stay in the EU single market for goods but the rest of the UK will leave. That means a proportion of food products arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain will need to be checked.
The EU has strict rules on products of ‘animal origin’ – meat, milk, fish and eggs.
These products must enter through a border control post where paperwork is checked and a proportion of goods are physically inspected.
Several supermarket chains had warned the supply of some products from GB to NI could be reduced, due to extra administrative burdens.
Sources said the concession was made as part of a package of arrangements hammered out in the UK-EU joint committee in exchange for the UK dropping its law-breaking Brexit clauses in the internal market and taxation bills.
Belfast office for EU Officials
There has also been a deal allowing 15 EU officials to be permanently based in offices in Belfast to help traders get to grips with the new system and monitor enforcement by UK officials. Their presence represents a U-turn for the government, months after it told Brussels they could not open an office in Belfast.
Michael Gove said the agreement “prevents any disruption at the end of the transition period on the movements of chilled meats”.