The government’s decision to unilaterally extend the grace periods relating to border checks on some agri-food products going into Northern Ireland, which were set to expire after 31 March 2021, has been given the thumbs up by Logistics UK.

However it urged the UK government to seek a mutual agreement on the extension to protect Northern Ireland’s supply chains in the longer term.

The controversial decision was announced unilaterally by the UK government last week and has been condemned by the EU as a breach of international law.

The UK’s policy manager for Northern Ireland, Seamus Leheny, said: “Extending the current grace periods for the movement of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland is vital to protect supply chains.

“We are pleased the government listened to the advice we shared with Rt Hon Michael Gove MP and European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič at a recent roundtable meeting.”

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He said the decision removes what would have been a significant administrative burden come 1 April 2021 and gives more time for the delivery of a permanent scheme that will reduce friction on SPS goods.

He added: “And, with this being unilateral action, Logistics UK is urging the UK and EU to work together on a solution that protects NI’s supply chains in the long-term.”

The grace period affects supermarkets and other retailers, which face having to provide export health certificates for all shipments of animal products into Northern Ireland.

A government statement on the extension said: “For supermarkets and their suppliers, as part of the operational plan the UK committed to at the UK-EU Joint Committee on 24 February, the current Scheme for Temporary Agri-food Movements to Northern Ireland will continue until 1 October.

"Certification requirements will then be introduced in phases alongside the roll out of the Digital Assistance Scheme."

The UK government is understood to be describing the extension to the EU as an "operational easement", rather than a formal extension of the grace period and using the example of the Irish government’s temporary relaxation of safety and security declarations on products arriving from GB in January.