Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has said any empty shelves in Northern Ireland are due to coronavirus issues and not because of Brexit.

He told Sky News: "The unfettered access was always about Northern Ireland businesses into Great Britain - yes there is.

"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've had at Dover due to Covid just before Christmas and the flow through the supply line of that rather than through the protocol.

"Supermarkets we've been talking to regularly have good flows of supply and that's important to Northern Ireland, being an integral part of the United Kingdom."

Last week Northern Ireland's Agriculture Minister the DUP's Edwin Poots said he envisaged a major crisis when a short-term grace period limiting the amount of red tape required to move retail food products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland runs out at the end of March.


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Mr Poots said suppliers to both hospitals and schools had warned that if the current arrangement for supermarkets is not extended they will not be able to supply hospitals and schools with food.

Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry accused him of "scaremongering on steroids" saying "there's no prospect that we're going to see a complete collapse of the food supply in Northern Ireland, it's just not going to happen."

Once the exemption expires supermarkets will have to comply with more rigorous animal health certification processes under the terms of Brexit's Northern Ireland Protocol.

At that time a spokeswoman for Northern Ireland's Department of Health said the Business Services Organisation, which supplies hospitals, had signed food contracts that will also allow for flexibility and substitution - for example, a move from fresh to tinned or frozen for example should that be required.

Retailers in Northern Ireland urged shoppers not to stockpile after problems with supplies left many shelves empty.

Smaller retailers said they fear months of disruption because of confusion about arrangements for importing food products from Britain following Brexit.

The British government has set up a special team to work with supermarkets trading in Northern Ireland which are having difficulties with deliveries. 

Among the stores affected are those owned by Tesco, which has reported disruption of some supplies to its stores in Ireland since 1 January when the post-Brexit trade deal with the EU came into force.


Musicians are being treated as "mere collateral" by the British government as the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement fails to provide touring visas, an SNP MP said.

Referring to his days touring in Europe with the band Runrig, Pete Wishart told the Commons: "Touring Europe means everything to our artists and musicians.

"The thrill of that first tour, crammed into the Transit van with all your gear, four to a room in a cheap hotel in Paris, Rotterdam or Hamburg. Using what's left of the fee for a post-gig beer.

"The dream that when you come back it will be a lavish tour bus, staying in five-star hotels.

"Gone, all gone. Musicians and artists mere collateral in this Government's obsession in ending freedom of movement."

A minister said "the door is open" if the EU was willing to "consider the UK's very sensible proposals" on visa arrangements for musicians.

Responding to SNP MP Pete Wishart's urgent question, culture minister Caroline Dinenage told the Commons: "This is incredibly disappointing news for the music sector, it is not the deal that we wanted. But I'm afraid that in many other senses he (Mr Wishart) has fallen for some very selective briefing.

"The EU did not offer a deal that would have worked for musicians. It's quite simple, the EU in fact made a very broad offer which would not have been compatible with the Government's manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders."

She added: "Let's focus on the future, if the EU is willing to consider the UK's very sensible proposals then the door is open... I am very happy to walk through it. I will be the first one through that door."