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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed he would not extend the transition period – which is set to come to an end on December 31 – but as the deadline looms nearer, neither side has been able to come to any agreement.
But now, the European Commission and the British Government are in talks about a possible grace period to allow retailers across Northern Ireland time to adapt to changes set to come into effect in January under the Northern Ireland Protocol.
It is believed this will only be a temporary adjustment period, if both sides agree on the extension, RTE News reports.
According to reports, the grace period would mean food imports going to supermarkets and retailers across the UK will not be subject to extra costs and paperwork.
Under the Northern Ireland Protocol – which was signed by Mr Johnson and the EU last year – Northern Ireland will remain part of the bloc’s single market.
UK and EU plan delay transition period (Image: Getty)
The Irish border has been a contentious issue (Image: Getty)
This means any supermarkets delivering food to shops across Northern Ireland will have to satisfy rules of origin specifications.
Products such as biscuits could be affected if the grain has been sourced from Ukraine or other parts of the EU.
Earlier this month, Sainsbury’s warned the supply of fish, dairy and meat products could be significantly reduced in stores across Northern Ireland due to Brexit.
Chief executive of the supermarket chain, Simon Roberts, said: “If we don’t get greater clarity on the Northern Ireland situation then we will see a restriction on the ranges of products we can sell.
DUP leader Arlene Foster issues warning over food (Image: Getty)
“This is not one or two products in store I am talking about, it is a substantial number of products and quite key, everyday products too.
“Customers expect to have access to a full range but [it] won’t be possible le to make that available unless something changes.”
Last week, DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill sent a joint letter to the Commission saying any threat to existing food supplies would be unacceptable.
They wrote: “It is hard to imagine a more fundamental aspect of everyday life than the purchase of daily food supplies.
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How might customs work under Brexit deal (Image: Express)
“Hence, we would ask you to recognise how important it is that the current consideration of the deal of how the Protocol will be applied takes our unique context into account.
“Last week, there was a meeting that included representatives from our main supermarkets here.
“These representatives have emphasised how critical the current situation is, with a real threat to the continuity of the supply of existing food and other products to our market unless these issues are urgently addressed and solutions found.
“This is an unacceptable situation for us to be in, especially so late in the process.”
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (Image: Getty)
Dominic Goudie, head of international trade at the UK’s Food and Drink Federation, previously warned: “Producers are now preparing for this worst-case scenario and many are planning to stop supplying the Northern Ireland market after 1 January 2021, to make as yet unconfirmed changes required for product labelling or while they assess if it remains a viable option for their business.”
The UK Government has promised Northern Ireland businesses “unfettered access” on good going to the rest of the UK.
But this does not apply to goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland.
A Government spokesperson said: “The UK and the EU have committed to an intensified process of engagement to resolve all outstanding issues with the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol which includes securing the flexibilities we need for trade from Britain to Northern Ireland.
Boris vowed not to extend transition period (Image: PA)
“This is particularly important for supermarkets, where we have been clear specific solutions are required.
“We will continue to work closely with the Northern Ireland executive as discussions continue with the EU through the joint committee process.”
The Irish border has been a contentious issue throughout Brexit negotiations.
The UK Government caused further outrage recently by saying it wanted to make changes to the previously agreed Withdrawal Arrangement.