Important not to ‘overstate’ Northern Ireland border issues, says Lewis

Important not to ‘overstate’ Northern Ireland border issues, says Lewis

A group of horse riders crosses the border from the Republic of Ireland in Northern Ireland at Carrickcarnan in Co Louth (Niall Carson/PA)

It is important not to “overstate” issues at the Northern Ireland border which have led to a shortage of supermarket supplies, Brandon Lewis has said.

The Northern Ireland Secretary told MPs that whilst there have been “challenges” to overcome in the first few weeks since the end of the Brexit transition period, “goods are moving” to and from the island.

His comments came as the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley) warned ministers that the Northern Ireland protocol is continuing to cause “enormous difficulty” for consumers and businesses in the country.

Since January 1, all movements of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland require a customs declaration, with some products needing further certification too.

Business representatives have described “significant problems” encountered on the trade border in the first few weeks of its operation.

Speaking in the Commons during Northern Ireland departmental questions, Mr Donaldson asked: “What is the Secretary of State going to do to resolve this problem?”

Responding, Mr Lewis said: “(Mr Donaldson) and I share a strong desire to ensure trade keeps flowing as smoothly as possible with unfettered access, as we promised, to Northern Ireland businesses – which we have delivered, but also to ensure that we’ve got that smooth flow for Great Britain into Northern Ireland as well.

“We’re working closely and I will continue to work closely with (Mr Donaldson) and his colleagues in the Northern Ireland executive to do so.

Garda checkpoint on the N13 at Bridge End in Co. Donegal close to the UK border not far from Derry City (Liam McBurney/PA)

“I think it is important that we don’t overstate some of the issues – that doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues, I appreciate there have been challenges.

“The grace periods, though, are working well, goods are moving and we are working closely with traders as they adapt, particularly here in Great Britain.”

Mr Lewis added that “as the Prime Minister rightly said last week, if we need to, we will not resist using Article 16 if it is appropriate and right to do so”.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland minister Robin Walker confirmed the UK government will look at taking further legislative action if required to ensure women in Northern Ireland are able to access safe abortions at home.

Labour’s Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) said: “It is a very familiar situation – the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and a vulnerable woman have been left with no option but to take the UK Government to court to ensure access to abortion at home.

“Except we are in a different situation because this House voted to require the Secretary of State to uphold these women’s rights and ensure that they could access abortion at home.

“With clear evidence over 100 women have been refused abortions and that they are buying pills online again, will the Secretary of State and the ministers confirm that they will act to uphold UK legislation and save the UK taxpayer court cost and act to intervene now?”

Mr Walker replied: “Well I can confirm to (Ms Creasy) that we are continuing to engage with the Minister of Health and his department on commissioning full services and have been since the regulations came into effect and we remain of the view that this is the most appropriate way to progress the matter.”

He added: “But we are continuing to monitor the situation closely, including considering further legislative action at Westminster at the appropriate time should it be required.”

Mr Lewis also told the Commons there is a “moral as well as a legal and an ethical duty” to ensure people are able to access funding for the payment scheme for victims of the Troubles.

He was responding to shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland Louise Haigh who warned “we simply cannot wash our hands of our responsibility”.

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