Northern Ireland could face food shortages due to Brexit customs checks in the Irish Sea

Cargo ships could be stranded in the Irish Sea due to post-Brexit customs checks; picture: PA Images

Cargo ships could be stranded in the Irish Sea due to post-Brexit customs checks; picture: PA Images - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

People in Northern Ireland could miss out on vital food products after Brexit because of proposed check points in the Irish Sea.

Goods travelling into the region could become stranded if marine check points are not ready for the end of the Brexit transition period, Stormont MLAs (Member of the Legislative Assembly) were told.

Members of Northern Ireland's Assembly's Infrastructure Committee heard evidence from representatives of the four main ports in the region - Belfast, Larne, Londonderry and Warrenpoint - about their plans to implement post-Brexit trading arrangements.

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Under current arrangements in the Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Irish border authorities are allowed to follow single market rules for goods and administer the EU's customs code at its ports.

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But Downing Street has said more regulatory checks will be needed on some goods entering the country from the rest of the UK, with the expansion of infrastructure to carry out sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) screening of animals and food products.

On Wednesday, port bosses voiced their concerns about an ongoing lack of certainty about what will be required come January 2021, as proposals contained in the UK government's command paper on the issue had not yet been agreed by the EU.

MLAs also heard how planning permission for new facilities was taking too long while funding for those projects had yet been allocated.

MORE: Minister says pandemic shows food supply chain will cope with no-deal Brexit

David Holmes, CEO of Warrenpoint Port, was asked by Sinn Fein MLA Liz Kimmins what would happen if the check points were not ready by the end of the year.

'As it stands, assuming the joint committees (UK-EU) don't move the goalposts and declare that there are less checks required, then there is a potential scenario across Northern Ireland that the food products that require SPS checks won't be able to come in,' he said.

'That's in a worst-case scenario.'

The ports are working in conjunction with Stormont's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and HMRC to get check points up to scratch.

Brian McGrath, CEO of Foyle Port, said a hard Brexit could lead to a 40% drop in trade for the commercial hub.

'Instead of being congested, it'll be tumbleweeds we'll be dealing with,' he said.

Larne Port boss Roger Armson said it was also 'very close' to an agreement to get a 'spade in the ground to be ready for the first of January'.

However, he warned that anything that slows the exit of each vehicle from a ferry, even by a number of seconds, could have a disruptive impact on business.

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