Legislate to force British firms to sell to Northern Ireland, Ulster Unionist Party urges Boris Johnson

The government should legislate to force companies in Great Britain to sell to Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Party has said.

Bare shelves have become increasingly common in Northern Ireland shops over recent weeks – and in some cases the products have gone for good
Bare shelves have become increasingly common in Northern Ireland shops over recent weeks – and in some cases the products have gone for good

Recent weeks have seen a growing number of British companies either pulling out of the Northern Ireland market entirely, or limiting the products which they sell in the province.

For several weeks Sainsbury’s stores in Northern Ireland have been stocking products from a rival supermarket, Spar, on their shelves to replace some of the hundreds of items which it is no longer sending from Great Britain because of the bureaucracy of the new Irish Sea border.

Yesterday the UUP called for legislation which would compel UK companies to sell to all parts of the UK market.

In a four-page paper proposing ways to improve the post-Irish Sea border situation, the UUP said: “The UK Government could legislate to put in place a requirement on companies based in Great Britain to ensure equality of provision to all regions of the UK Internal Market.”

It said that this could be accompanied, as “an act of good faith to the EU” and an attempt to protect the EU’s single market, the UK “could create a new offence to prohibit the use of our territory for the export of goods to the EU that are not compliant with EU regulations and standards”.

The UUP paper calls for at least a 12-month extension of the current ‘grace periods’ which effectively delay some of the most onerous new border bureaucracy, including the crucial issue of costly and cumbersome export health certificates for any product containing anything of animal origin.

A temporary derogation means that those checks will not start for supermarkets and other large food companies until April 1 but two weeks ago Secretary of State Brandon Lewis made clear that the government was not even considering asking to extend the grace periods.

The party also called for a government taskforce to find long-term solutions to the problems, and “all-islands compliance body” to police the new regime, and an awareness campaign in GB “to ensure that businesses know not just what is required of them, but what help is available to them in adapting to the new regime”.

The UUP proposals are less confrontational than what TUV leader Jim Allister proposed last week in a rival three-point plan which would see unionists block north-south bodies from operating while the Irish Sea border is in place, DUP minister Edwin Poots would stop his officials from carrying out the border checks and the Assembly should refuse to allow EU laws to be passed by Stormont.

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