Problems surrounding the export of British good to Northern Ireland are a "significant" issue, according to government minister Michael Gove, despite Boris Johnson's claim the disrupted trade in the wake of Brexit was just "teething problems".
In response to an Urgent Question tabled by the Labour Party about the Northern Ireland Protocol in the House of Commons on Tuesday, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cabinet Office Secretary acknowledged that there were "a number of very specific issues" that would not dissipate until addressed by the UK and European Union.
The question related to problems surrounding trade across the Irish Sea, with businesses in Great Britain facing difficulties in shipping food and animal products to Northern Ireland because of complicated new customs and health administrative procedures. The delays have seen shortages of certain foods on supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland.
"In the short term, there are a number of issues which I would not describe as teething problems", Gove told MPs.
"They are significant issues which bear on the lives of people in Northern Ireland, which do need to be resolved."
He said that the government wishes to extend periods of grace established by the UK and EU for certain aspects of trade with Northern Ireland to put a stop to further obstruction.
"We do need to make sure that grace periods are extended and we do need to make sure that supermarkets and other traders can continue, as they are at the moment, to supply consumers with the goods that they need," he added.
He highlighted specific issues such as "everything from pet passports to the provision of plants and seeds to gardens in Northern Ireland"
"The daily life of our fellow citizens does need to be protected and we must deal with all of these questions," Gove said.
The three-month grace period allaying the need to fill in Export Health Certificates for trade, which must be inspected by vets before approval, is currently set to end on 1 April.
However, Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee last month that the government does not intend to extend the grace periods involving customs checks on parcels, food and animal goods, and exports of chilled meat products.
“We’re not at the moment in a position where we want to be looking at extending the grace periods", he said.
This followed Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisting earlier this month that the trading issues seen across the Irish Sea were just "teething problems".
"Yes, I am not going to deny that there are teething problems, and there are issues that we need to sort out... but the deal has been of great, great assistance to our businesses in smoothing this," Johnson said on 13 January in an address to the Liaison Committee of senior MPs.
Gove echoed the PM's comments in his own address on the same day, describing the trade delays as "teething problems" that could be smoothed away.
British government is 'smoothing away' #brexit "teething problems", @michaelgove assures House of Commons in debate about trade disruption between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. #brexitdeal #NIprotocol pic.twitter.com/RoUmDmSQ32— Georg von Harrach (@georgvh) January 13, 2021
He claimed that the situation around Britain's economic border with Northern Ireland was "far better than some people had perhaps expected, things are much smoother".
There is a de facto customs border between Britain and the devolved UK region of Northern Ireland as a result of the agreement between the British government and the European Union, which outlined the terms of withdrawal from the bloc.