Empty Supermarket Shelves Caused by Coronavirus Lockdown, Not Brexit: UK Govt

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - JANUARY 14: A supermarket customer looks at the near empty shelves in Tescos on January 14, 2021 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Supermarkets here are already seeing disruption to food supplies after the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31st, when Northern Ireland remained part …
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A UK government minister rebuffed claims that pictures of empty supermarket shelves in some UK towns were down to Brexit, stating that Coronavirus lockdowns were the actual cause.

Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis was touring broadcast studios Tuesday morning and was twice asked about the state of food supply in the nation. Asked about supermarket shelves in Ulster, one of the four home nations, Lewis told the BBC’s Today Programme that the phenominon had been seen accross the country, but was actually down to delivery delays caused by Coronavirus, and had “nothing to do with leaving the EU”.

That there would be queues at ports leading to the United Kingdom after it left the European Union was a frequently-cited scare story associated with so-called Project Fear, a strategy by pro-Europe politicians in the pre-referendum era to discourage independence. As it happens, the only major port disruption in recent weeks took place before Britain finally left the laws and conventions of the European Union on New Year’s Eve — and took place in relation to the French government’s Covid sanitary controls.

Lewis told the state broadcaster that, despite the backlog he said was caused by the hige Covid-related delays around Christmas: “supermarket supply lines at the moment are in good fettle.”

This was a line the government minister would retread later in the morning when he spoke to Sky News. Lewis said: “The flow of food and goods linked to the EU and the Northern Ireland protocol has been good, actually.

“Where we’ve seen some images of empty shelves in Northern Ireland — although, let’s be clear, we’ve seen them across the UK recently — has been linked to Covid, and some of the challenges we had at Dover due to Covid just before Christmas and the flow through-supply line for that, rather than through the [Brexit] protocol.”

Attention has particularly focussed on shops in Northern Ireland as, despite being a full and equal part of the United Kingdom, it is the only part of the nation that has a land border with a European Union state and has not truly left the Union with the rest of the nation. Indeed, the so-called Northern Ireland protocol means it remains subject to EU Single Market rules and split off from the rest of the nation by an internal customs border, a matter of great concern in Ulster itself.

Among the most vocal critics of the protocol has been the DUP — a party that campaigns for Ulster to remain a part of the United Kingdom — and the Northern Ireland Assembly’s agriculture minister spoke out Tuesday to challenge Brandon Lewis’s assertion that Westminster allowing the European Union to impose an internal customs border within the UK hasn’t impacted the delivery of food.

Agri minister Edwin Poots said that while Ulster had plenty of home-grown food like beef and potatoes, other staples like jelly and gravy powder were shipped over from England and could be harder to get because of the EU border. He told the Assembly on Tuesday: “Brandon Lewis is clearly going about like the emperor with no clothes; however, it is not a small boy who is pointing it out, but the entire crowd.

“He really needs to reflect on that. It is not a good policy to go about saying something that is blatantly not the case.

“We know what the problems are and where they emanate from, and we know that those issues need to be dealt with.”

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