Ministers have been accused of leaving Northern Ireland businesses ‘in distress’ after failing to answer 60 questions about post-Brexit trading rules.
A business leader slammed ministers for leaving firms in the dark with just six weeks to go until the end of the transition period.
“We asked 67 questions at the beginning of the summer,” Manufacturing NI’s chief executive Stephen Kelly told MPs. “When we reviewed that, just a couple of weeks ago, 60 of those 67 questions remained unanswered.”
The comment came after the Ulster Farmers’ Union said its members had no chance of being ready by January 1, telling MPs: “That’s why we need an implementation, honeymoon period.”
Around 30% of Northern Ireland’s milk is sold into the Republic while 50% of pigs slaughtered in its abattoirs come from the South. They are then sold in the UK with British labels.
“We’re now in the middle of November, we don’t know what needs to be on those labels,” warned Victor Chestnutt, the farmers’ union’s president.
Kelly also warned the regions aerospace industry – which accounts for 10% of Northern Ireland’s exports – was in “deep distress”.
“If we lose that business, we lose a huge chunk of our exports overnight,” he told the Commons Brexit committee.
“Northern Ireland’s business community will not be ready for the 1st of January, quite simply. We have had no conversations with anyone about goods at risk.”
The remarks come on the back of news that Boris Johnson could agree to a six-month Brexit adjustment period.
On Sunday the environment secretary George Eustice suggested there would be a “phasing-in period” for checks on goods entering Northern Ireland at the end of the Brexit transition period, and urged ministers to widen the policy to cover all sectors
It has led to the Liberal Democrats joining forces with a leading business figure to press the prime minister to effectively extend the transition period for six months to give businesses more time to adjust to any new regulations.
In a letter to the prime minister, Lid Dems leader Sir Ed Davey and former Siemens boss Juergen Maier said: “Uncertainty is bad for business at any time, but the combination of the challenges of battling the impact of coronavirus restrictions alongside having now to cope with the huge challenge of complying with new trading procedures, at very short notice, could be very damaging.”
They added: “We urge you to negotiate the reasonable and practical measure of a three to six-month adjustment period in the EU trade deal, to save jobs and businesses.”