Brexit: Longer grace periods not a solution says Varadkar

3 months ago 27
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By Jayne McCormack
BBC News NI political correspondent

image captionMr Varadkar said he "wouldn't object" to grace periods being extended, but it would be up to the UK and EU to agree to it

Extending grace periods for some Irish Sea border checks would be "reasonable" but not a full solution, Leo Varadkar has said.

The tánaiste (Irish deputy PM) was speaking in Newry following a two-day visit to Northern Ireland.

He held meetings with businesses as well as the five main Stormont party leaders.

Mr Varadkar described his meeting with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson on Thursday as "good but frank".

"He (Sir Jeffrey) didn't mince his words about their assessment of the protocol and the difficulties they feel it's creating," he told a press conference in Newry.

Unionist parties have expressed opposition to the protocol, arguing it has damaged east-west trade and harms the union.

On Tuesday, DUP Economy Minister Gordon Lyons called for further delays to Irish Sea border checks.

image captionEconomy Minister Gordon Lyons said there will be problems if grace periods expire as planned on 1 October

The NI Protocol keeps NI in the EU's single market for goods meaning some products need to be checked as they arrive from GB.

Not all the checks have been implemented due to what are known as 'grace periods.'

'Sausage ban'

Gordon Lyons said there will be "real problems" if grace periods expire as planned on 1 October.

On that date, some GB-made meat products would be prohibited in Northern Ireland - what has become known as "the sausage ban".

A much bigger concern for supermarkets is they would need to start using export health certification for all products of animal origin (meat, dairy, fish and eggs) going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

This would be a significant increase in administration and complexity.

Mr Varadkar said he "certainly wouldn't have any objection" to grace periods being extended, but it would be up to the UK and EU to agree to it.

"The difficulty is it doesn't deal with underlying difficulties - it just puts things off," he added.

He also said he and Taoiseach (Irish PM) Micheál Martin recognised unionists had "genuine and heartfelt concerns" about the Northern Ireland Protocol.

But he said the focus needed to be on finding practical solutions that ensured the Republic of Ireland's position in the EU single market is protected.

"I know there are people in unionism who perhaps see me as the architect of the protocol because I was involved in negotiating it... but it was always a means to an end.

"I was always open to other solutions... I've always been there looking for solutions that minimise disruption to trade caused by Brexit."

The four other parties held meetings with the tanaiste on Wednesday in Belfast, with discussions focused on the Northern Ireland Protocol, recovery from Covid and Westminster's plans to end all Troubles-related prosecutions.

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