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The EU’s failure to come forward with solutions to ensure Northern Ireland’s Jewish community can continue to receive British kosher food is “despicable”, Brandon Lewis has said.
With the UK continuing to push for a renegotiation of the province’s post-Brexit trading arrangements, the Northern Ireland Secretary said it was “fairly disgraceful” that solutions had not been found to address the community’s concerns.
His intervention comes several months after Jewish leaders warned the community’s traditions were under threat from the Northern Ireland Protocol, which requires the province to follow EU rules and regulations.
Under the protocol, British chilled meats are set to be banned in Northern Irish shops in the future, a move that will affect a number of Jewish products. Kosher is a term to describe food that complies with a strict set of dietary rules in Judaism.
There are also concerns that new paperwork requirements and customs controls at ports on agrifoods are putting off British producers from sending smaller volumes of product across the Irish Sea, because of the added cost and bureaucracy.
The EU has now agreed to a standstill arrangement with the UK while the two sides discuss permanent solutions to the protocol, meaning the chilled meats ban and a range of additional checks have been suspended indefinitely.
Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice-president, pictured below, has promised to come forward with proposals in the coming weeks, but UK officials and ministers are frustrated at the lack of urgency.
Brussels has also warned it will not renegotiate the legal text of the protocol, and has warned it reserves its rights to demand that additional red tape - which is currently suspended - is implemented in the future.
Speaking to The Telegraph at an event in Westminster to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary, Mr Lewis said: “To have the EU effectively saying to the Jewish community, ‘you can’t source your products in your own country’, is a pretty despicable place to be.
“To not understand that a community like that cannot travel 100 miles each way each week to get their shopping, I think it is pretty poor form. I find that fairly disgraceful, to be frank.”