Michael Gove Admits Northern Ireland Post-Brexit Trade Disruption Is Not Just "Teething Problems"
The problems facing British businesses trying to export goods to Northern Ireland are not simply "teething problems", but "significant issues", according to Michael Gove, despite Boris Johnson's attempts to play down the disruption.
Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was responding to an Urgent Question about the Northern Ireland Protocol tabled by the Labour Party, when he admittted that there were "a number of very specific issues" that would not fall away until addressed by the UK and European Union.
The senior minister was asked about disruption affecting trade across the Irish Sea, with businesses in Great Britain struggling to send food and animal products to Northern Ireland due to complex new customs and health paperwork. The difficulties and delays have led to shortages of certain foods on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland.
"In the short term, there are a number of issues which I would not describe as teething problems," he told MPs on Tuesday.
"They are significant issues which bear on the lives of people in Northern Ireland, which do need to be resolved".
Gove announced that the government wanted to extend grace periods agreed by the UK and EU for certain elements of Northern Irish trade in order to prevent further disruption, though he did not specify which. He said the UK officials were ready to work "calmy" and "at speed" to resolve the trickiest issues facing traders. A three-month grace period relieving supermarkets of the need to fill in Export Health Certificates, which need to be checked by vets before being approved, is due to expire on April 1.
"We do need to make sure that grace periods are extended and we do need to make sure that supermarkets and other traders can continue, as they are at the moment, to supply consumers with the goods that they need.
"There are a number of very specific issues and they extend to, as I mentioned earlier, everything from pet passports to the provision and plants and seeds to gardens in Northern Ireland.
"The daily life of our fellow citizens does need to be protected and we must deal with all of these questions."Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted in mid-January that the issues facing businesses trading across the Irish Sea were "teething problems."
On January 13, he told the Liaison Committee of senior MPs: "Yes, I am not going to deny down that there are teething problems, and there are issues that we need to sort out... but the deal has been of great, great assistance to our businesses in smoothing this."
He added that the situation at Britain's economic border with Northern Ireland was "far better than some people had perhaps expected, things are much smoother".
The following week, Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that the government did not plan to extend the grace periods covering food and animal goods, chilled meat exports, and customs checks on parcels.
“We’re not at the moment in a position where we want to be looking at extending the grace periods," he said.