SNP and Scottish Labour MSPs have criticised the post-Brexit deals made by Boris Johnson’s government, claiming they have opened the door to cut-price products flooding the UK market while ministers have been “completely unprepared” for the forthcoming end of the grace period which has allowed for light touch checks on imports from Great Britain to Northern Ireland
The criticisms come as the EU publishes its proposals for simplifying some aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol, including a plan for ensuring the continued supply of medicines, although the UK government has said they don’t go far enough.
The Northern Ireland protocol was agreed by the UK and EU to avoid a hard border in Ireland during the Brexit deal negotiations, however as it keeps Northern Ireland in the Single Market it has caused difficulties in moving goods across the water from the mainland.
As a result, the UK government has asked the EU for a wholesale renegotiation of the protocol terms, but the bloc of 27 countries has refused to do so, instead publishing two papers on specific areas of contention – medicines and animal transportation.
Adding to the pressure is the end of the grace period on September 30 which has allowed for lighter touch customs checks.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said Mr Johnson had created "a mess and he has a personal responsibility to fix it”.
Mr Sarwar, speaking during a visit to Stranraer as part of what he’s dubbed a “Great Scottish Staycation tour”, said the impact of the end of the grace period on Scottish exports to Northern Ireland would “pile on added pressure to businesses and port authorities already struggling with new regulations.”
“It beggars belief that after all these years of negotiations on the Irish Sea, the UK government still has no solutions,” he said. “Port authorities are already stretched to breaking point trying to keep on top of demand, and this is only set to get worse.
“We have been warned time and time again that checks down the Irish Sea would cause havoc for Scottish exports and Northern Irish businesses, but instead of finding serious solutions before the grace period ends the UK government is hopelessly unprepared.”
He added: “Scotland’s world-class food and drink system has thrived on frictionless trade with the EU, but the UK government has thrown it under the bus by negotiating needless and damaging barriers. Meanwhile, the SNP would have us put these same barriers up between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
“We cannot keep kicking the can down the road. We need a long term plan to enable seamless trade between Scotland and Northern Ireland and protect the countless businesses which rely on it.”
A UK government spokesperson said the new EU proposals represented "only a small subset of the many difficulties caused by the way the protocol is operating” and added: "We need comprehensive and durable solutions if we are to avoid further disruption to everyday lives in Northern Ireland.”
Meanwhile SNP MSP Jim Fairlie has said concerns raised about undercutting Scottish farmers and crofters in the trade deal struck with Australia had been responded to with “bluff and bluster” by the UK government.
Mr Fairlie had written to Boris Johnson outlining “grave concerns” about the deal, which was responded to by Trade Minister Greg Hands.
Mr Hands promised farmer and crofters will not be undercut, but as yet has not established the new statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission to specifically scrutinise all new trade deals.
Mr Fairlie said: "The response provided to me by the Trade Minister was full of the usual bluff and bluster that we have come to expect from the Tories when it comes to the protection of Scotland's farmers and crofters.
"I have spoken to a number of farmers across my constituency of Perthshire South and Kinross-shire and all over Scotland who are terrified of the precedent this deal sets.
"It could provide a blueprint for our vital farming sector to be undercut once again by deals from other countries such as America.”
In his letter Mr Hands said he did not fear cheap imports of Australian beef would be headed for UK shores because of the Australian government’s ambitions to trade with expanding Pacific markets.
"Any deal we sign will include protections for the agriculture industry and will not unfairly undercut UK farmers or compromise our high standards. A UK-Australia FTA will not undercut UK farmers unfairly or compromise our high standards.
“Instead, this deal will open up opportunities in fast growing markets across the CPTPP countries.
“Any deal we sign will include protections for the agriculture industry. This includes a range of quotas and safeguards, as set out in the Agreement in Principle document, which provide protection and the ability to reapply tariffs for the next 15 years should volumes exceed specified triggers.”
He added: “Ultimately, there are new opportunities across the world for UK farmers, particularly in Asia. The UK-Australia free trade arrangement is a gateway to joining CPTPP and securing greater access to this lucrative Asian market.
“This is where the future opportunity lies for our farmers, and we are committed to supporting Scotland’s farmers in taking advantage of the benefits of new FTAs.
“I have replied to the Scottish Ministers, including Mairi Gougeon MSP, regarding the deal and Scotland’s agriculture industry and I remain committed to having an open and transparent dialogue with the Scottish Government.”