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File Photo: A handout photo of Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson provided by the House of Commons (AP)
File Photo: A handout photo of Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson provided by the House of Commons (AP)

Johnson brushes off post-Brexit trade issues in Northern Ireland

Johnson conceded there were some 'teething problems' with implementing new checks in trade to and from England, Scotland and Wales, and Northern Ireland

Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted Wednesday post-Brexit trade between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland was flowing "smoothly", despite hauliers warning the province's supply chain was on the brink of collapse.

Johnson conceded there were some "teething problems" with implementing new checks in trade to and from England, Scotland and Wales, and Northern Ireland.

But he added: "The situation in Northern Ireland is that trade is flowing smoothly, and exporters are benefiting from the unfettered access between Great Britain (GB) and Northern Ireland (NI)."

"I believe that things are flowing so smoothly from GB to NI... that many hauliers are now using that route rather than the Holyhead-Dublin route," he added, referring to the shipping route from mainland Britain to EU member Ireland.

Britain formally left the European Union single market and customs union late on December 31, when an 11-month transition period ended.

Despite agreeing a free trade deal with the bloc on Christmas Eve, a host of new checks and UK regulations came into effect.

Although fears of gridlock at British ports have so far not been realised, the new regime has adversely affected the flow of freight into Northern Ireland, according to those involved.

Special arrangements have effectively kept the UK province largely aligned to EU rules, to prevent the re-emergence of a hard border with Ireland.

An open border was a key plank of the 1998 peace deal which ended 30 years of violence over British rule in Northern Ireland.

But the move requires special checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from mainland Britain in case of the risk of them heading across the border into Ireland.

Johnson's comments to the heads of parliament's select committees that these checks have been implemented smoothly sat in stark contrast to those of traders and business operators this week.

John Martin, Road Haulage Association (RHA) policy manager for Northern Ireland, said supermarkets were "experiencing considerable difficulties" stocking shelves since the Brexit transition period ended.

"Some companies have decided to put on hold supplying Northern Ireland because of the uncertainty or because of the delays," he told AFP on Monday.

Even with freight volumes running at "30 to 40 percent of normal volume" owing to coronavirus restrictions, new systems are struggling to cope with the new processes required to deliver produce from mainland Britain, Martin said.

"The thing is literally within days of falling apart," he added.

jj/phz/wai

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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