by Frank Schnittger
Fri Sep 18th, 2020 at 12:07:00 AM EST
Newton Emerson, a unionist commentator, has an article up in the Irish Times echoing Boris Johnson's complaint that the EU is threatening to blockade N. Ireland's food supplies. This is part of Johnson's justification for breaking international law even though discussions at the joint implementation body on the N. Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement had been, by all accounts, making good progress in resolving outstanding issues.
The three British supermarket chains which control 80% of N. Ireland's grocery trade have been campaigning to be allowed to circumvent customs controls on the grounds that their internal controls are sufficient to ensure all standards are met and tariffs paid. Those internal controls were not sufficient, in the recent past, to prevent horse meat being passed off as beef in beef burgers, and giving them such privileged treatment might also kill off the remaining 20% of the grocery trade they don't currently control - small retailers who wouldn't get similarly preferential treatment.
German supermarket chains such as Aldi and Lidl are making great inroads into the grocery trade in the Republic of Ireland, as are other retailers like IKEA and Decathlon who don't source most of their goods in Britain. Presumably the British based supermarket chains in N. Ireland - Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury - are concerned they might be disadvantaged by customs checks retailers sourcing their goods within the Single Market would not face. But this is the reality of Brexit.
I have responded in the Irish Times letters page as follows:
`Brussels is threatening NI food supply'
Sir, - Parts of Newton Emerson's article citing the EU customs compliance costs of half the cost of a typical container's contents read as if they were inspired by a supermarket PR department ("Brussels is threatening the North's food supply", Opinion & Analysis, September 17th).
It is not the job of the EU to copper-fasten the virtual monopoly of the North's grocery trade by three supermarket chains. The customs controls he complains of apply to all goods from all countries outside the EU which do not have a special trading and regulatory relationship with the EU.
And isn't that precisely what Boris Johnson has been asking for? To be treated just like Australia, which doesn't have a trade deal with the EU?
In any case, what's so bad about trying to prevent chlorinated chickens, steroid- or antibiotic-treated beef, or live animals with foot-and-mouth disease getting on to the island, and from here potentially onto the continent?
Of course, Boris Johnson may not have done his homework to find out exactly what controls Australia faces in trying to export into the single market, but whose fault is that?
This is what Brexit is - Britain is voluntarily deciding to forgo the benefits of a common market and regulatory area many other countries would die for. It never made any sense, but Newton Emerson only seems to be discovering this now.
Many supposedly objective political commentators stood idly by while the DUP went all gung-ho for Brexit against the wishes of a large majority in Northern Ireland. It was all good political fun and games at the time, one in the eye for the nationalists. This is when the reality strikes home. - Yours, etc,