Stormont’s agriculture minister has described the Northern Ireland secretary in Westminster as the “emperor with no clothes” after he said trade disruptions across the Irish Sea were due to Covid-19, and not Brexit.
Edwin Poots said Brandon Lewis was “the emperor with no clothes – but instead of a small boy pointing out he’s naked, the whole crowd is pointing it out”.
Poots’ comment was in reference to Lewis’ remark that empty supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland had “nothing to do with the Protocol”.
The minister told the Stormont Assembly: “We know what the problems are, and what they emanate from and that they need to be dealt with.”
He urged Lewis to reflect on his comments.
This comes after Poots warned hospitals and schools in Northern Ireland could run out of food when the Brexit grace period finishes at the end of March.
“It was made very clear to us by the suppliers to both hospitals and schools that if the current arrangement for supermarkets isn’t extended in a few months’ time that they will not be able to supply our hospitals and schools with food,” Poots, a DUP minister, told BBC Radio Ulster.
“That is a major crisis and I have raised this with Michael Gove.”
The grace period allows retailers to trade goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland without the need to adhere to new post-Brexit regulations. When that ends, supermarkets will have to comply with more rigorous animal health certification processes.
Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said food shortages were getting worse.
“Rather than perpetuating the myth that ‘there’s nothing to see here’, the secretary of state would be much better off doing everything he can to achieve the necessary derogations that we need, not just for a few weeks, but for a year at least,” he said.
“As with most problems in life, ignoring it and hoping it goes away is not an advisable strategy.
“When it comes to empty shelves in supermarkets and food supplies, it is a truly awful strategy and a dangerous one at that.”