Legal and political struggles over the Northern Ireland Protocol pose little immediate danger to day-to-day supply chain operations, but do threaten the viability of strategic future planning.

Yesterday, the EU began legal proceedings against the UK over its decision to extend grace periods on new customs checks on products moving GB-NI, said to be an infringement of the protocol, with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) launching a judicial review of the protocol itself.

Unionist DUP party member Lord Hay said the protocol was “unworkable”.

He added: “People in Northern Ireland are experiencing real economic and social difficulties from the protocol. Extended grace periods won’t fix the underlying faults.”

Baroness Hoey noted that “all three unionist parties” were united in opposition to the protocol, and said for this reason “tinkering” would not work. The protocol was “destined to fail”.

Amid the legal and political fallout surrounding the legal basis for trade between GB, NI and the EU, industry leaders have said supply chains were “continuing to muddle through”, and that little had changed since 1 January.

Chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation Shane Brennan told The Loadstar his members welcomed the extension, but were unnerved by the political hostility.

“We thought this was an absolutely vital easement, necessary for easing disruption to the recovery of Northern Ireland’s trade, but it is a shame it was not agreed by both sides.

“The problem arising from all this, long-term, is that we are ‘kicking the can down the road’ in a contested way, which means we cannot plan for the future and have to continue with the muddling.”

Several peers, including Baroness Quin and Lord Murphy, said for post-Brexit trade to succeed, the EU and the UK needed to work together in a “consensual and practical” manner.

Lord Murphy added: “There needs to be proper dialogue between the parties, not the legal or megaphone diplomacy currently happening, because as it stands there is not a scrap of evidence that the sides are communicating. The UK government also needs to liaise with all the Northern Ireland political parties and their leaders, as the only way forward is consent from all the communities.”

Baroness Scott said when it came to the protocol her governing party were seeking to avoid further disruption by listening to and working with business to address the problems, but one source questioned this.

“I can’t see what they are trying to achieve,” the source told The Loadstar. “More often than not what they say just does not reflect the business reality on the ground – their efforts seem to cosmeticise what government wants rather than what business needs.”

“As for the protocol, that was something just dreamed up by the government with no understanding of what it meant – sort of ‘back of a fag packet’ governing – and when the implications became obvious, the UK just seems to have said ‘let’s ignore that’.”

There are also concerns of ambiguity in the language of the extension to the grace periods. Under the terms of the extension, the grace period applies to those on the authorised trader list supplying retail goods destined for supermarkets.

However, Mr Brennan noted that, “in practice” many of those supplying retail outlets also supply the same goods to the hospitality sector and, as a result, the practicalities of determining what was destined for retail and what was destined for hospitality was complicated.

“These grey areas, when caught up in high-level political animosity could leave logistics in the middle, particularly when it comes around the ideal of ‘retail’ and what is and isn’t allowed through.”

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