Lady Ritchie slams Tories for continuing Brexit uncertainty.
Government ministers are dragging their heels in the race against time to get Northern Ireland’s ports ready for Brexit, a senior member of the House of Lords said on Wednesday 15 July.
Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick believes the Tories are not moving quickly enough to ensure that Warrenpoint, Belfast and Larne ports are ready for the huge changes that will come when the UK fully leaves the EU on December 31.
Lady Ritchie said that under a protocol signed as part of the withdrawal agreement, new post-Brexit customs checks will have to take place to examine imports from the rest of the UK.
This is in order to protect Northern Ireland’s continuing place in the single market for goods – a solution agreed to avoid a hard border with the Republic.
She has asked the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) at Westminster what progress has been made in building inspection facilities at the Northern Ireland ports, through which goods from Britain will be shipped.
In reply, British government junior minister told her in a written answer that applications for sanitary and phytosanitary inspection facilities at the ports were submitted to the European Commission at the end of last month.
He also confirmed that Whitehall had agreed in principle to pick up the costs of the work needed – but he pointedly did not spell out the timescale.
Lady Ritchie said: “Here in Northern Ireland, we are hurtling at full speed towards a Brexit we didn’t vote for, and we’re no closer to knowing if these vital facilities are going to be compliant by the end of the transition period on December 31.
“This is completely unacceptable. Our ports will be our gateway to Europe and the wider world and we don’t yet know how they are going to function in the post-Brexit era – or even if they are going to function at all.
“The news that the British government has agreed in principle to pay the construction costs is welcome, although I want to see a firm and unequivocal commitment on this.
“However, it is totally unacceptable that with just over five months to go, we have had no assurances that the vital port facilities we need to keep goods flowing smoothly into Northern Ireland are going to be ready in time.
“It simply isn’t good enough.
“Brexit is going to be disruptive enough without this added uncertainty.
“Ministers need to make sure we are ready for this new and challenging era of post-EU trade with the rest of the UK.
“I intend to keep pressing them on this until we get an answer,” said Lady Ritchie.