“Not for EU” labelling on British food products sold across the UK will be phased in gradually from this autumn, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said.
Cleverly told peers that during negotiations with retailers ahead of the signing of the Windsor Framework, UK-wide labelling was identified as the preferred option.
The labelling requirement is part of the Government’s deal with the EU to reduce checks on British products entering Northern Ireland.
The Foreign Secretary gave evidence to the House of Lords Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland Sub-Committee on the Windsor Framework, signed earlier this year to resolve trading difficulties between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, caused by the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.
October 1st deadline
Baroness Ritchie asked Mr Cleverly to update the committee on the requirement for “Not for EU” food labelling.
She said retail representatives had raised concern about a lack of details ahead of an October 1st deadline.
Mr Cleverly said during consultation with retailers, the “centre of gravity of the voices that we had was that UK-wide labelling was the preferred option”.
He added: “The practical point was that retailers were saying they would prefer a UK-wide regime, philosophically Northern Ireland is part of the UK so it seems logical that something we are asking Northern Ireland to do, we should ask the UK to do.
“I am very comfortable with having a UK-wide regime.”
Mr Cleverly said that while autumn was the starting point for the plan, it would be phased in over a couple of years.
He added: “We have been talking about this for quite some time, including in the Command Paper in 2021, so this shouldn’t really be a surprise to the retail sector.
“Of course they will want to have details about size and prominence and I will get details about exactly how and when.
“It is not just a sudden start, we have been talking about this for a couple of years and it won’t be fully implemented for another couple of years.
“I am not a retailer, I don’t want to imply simplicity when there might be complexity, but this is something we discussed extensively with the retail sector, including those who said that labelling would be a good way of ensuring their products would be available in GB, not just in Northern Ireland.”
Green and red lane arrangements
DUP peer Lord Dodds said that traders had also expressed concerns about new green and red lane arrangements to deal with the flow of goods from Britain into Northern Ireland.
He added: “We had evidence from a manufacturer a couple of weeks ago who said basically that most manufacturers would put everything through the red lane just for clarity.
“We have heard evidence that the green lane is effectively a retail lane for goods that can be guaranteed to stay in Northern Ireland.
“How does that square with the Prime Minister’s statement that any sense of an Irish Sea border has been removed?”
Mr Cleverly said he believed the commitment by the Prime Minister had largely been brought to reality.
He said he was willing to look at specific examples where concerns remained.
The Foreign Secretary added: “Northern Ireland’s relationship both with its proximity to the single market and its part of the United Kingdom means that complete perfection in all instances is not something that is ultimately deliverable.
“But I think we have in very large part made good on that promise to eradicate that sea border in Northern Ireland.”
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