Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) has said that abandoning the Northern Ireland Protocol would set the industry back.

Michael Bell, executive director of NIFDA said: “Since the decision to leave the European Union was taken, the food and drink industry has urged an approach that maintains frictionless movement of goods on and between these islands.

“Our supply chains are highly integrated both north-south and east-west, and we have consistently warned that new barriers to trade in either direction could be highly disruptive.

“NIFDA supports the Northern Ireland Protocol as it has been vital to ensuring continuity of trade in goods across the island of Ireland, and between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.”

The NIFDA representative said that the protocol helped Northern Ireland avoid a “catastrophic ‘no deal’ Brexit” and secured Northern Ireland’s ability to freely export to both the EU and the rest of the UK.

“For a majority of our members, the protocol is working,” Bell added.

“For a minority, there have been issues. Some of these have been addressed to an extent by the various ‘grace periods’, and NIFDA has been working with government to highlight areas where improvements can be made and processes streamlined.

“While politicians may debate constitutional implications of Brexit deals, we are concerned with the livelihoods of 113,000 people who are dependent on the prosperity of Northern Ireland food and drink,” he continued.

“Simply scrapping the protocol would only set us back. We must not forget that Brexit itself presented Northern Ireland food and drink companies with many major challenges, most of which have been resolved by the protocol whilst offering new opportunities.”

NIFDA has echoed the comments of Dairy Council NI which said that one size doesn’t fit all, and that solutions need to be agreed between the government and the EU that deliver on the four key industry tests of affordability, certainty, simplicity and stability.