‘Still challenges to sort’ before threat to kosher food in Northern Ireland removed

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‘Still challenges to sort’ before threat to kosher food in Northern Ireland removed

Conservative peer asked to give 'commitment' to solve the issue which is the product of a trading protocol agreed after Brexit

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Former Synagogue building on Annesley Street, Belfast (Wikipedia/Author	Whiteabbey/ Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode)
Former Synagogue building on Annesley Street, Belfast (Wikipedia/Author Whiteabbey/ Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode)

There are “still some real challenges to sort out” before the threat to kosher food supplies in Northern Ireland is removed, the Conservative frontbencher Viscount Younger of Leckie has admitted.

Lord Younger was asked to give a “commitment” to the House of Lords that there is no threat to the availability of kosher in the region as a result of the UK government’s signing of protocol –  the part of the Brexit deal that creates a border in the Irish Sea.

He replied:”We announced in March that arrangements for supermarkets and their suppliers who are trusted traders supplying food will continue until October, meaning that they do not need to complete health certificate paperwork.

“But as they have made clear to us, notwithstanding the considerable government investment to support these efforts, there are still some real challenges to sort out.”

Boris Johnson had admitted last week that a post-Brext trade dispute threatened to cut off kosher food supplies to Northern  Ireland and lead to an “exodus” of Jews in the region.

Lord Dodds had initially raised concerns expressed by the Jewish community in Northern Ireland about its future there as a result of a chilled meat ban linked to the protocol.

“Very worryingly, the Chief Rabbi and Jewish leaders in Belfast have expressed great concerns about the operation of the protocol and the continued viability of the Jewish community,” said Lord Dodds.

Lord Younger

“The Prime Minister has also expressed concerns.”

He asked Lord Younger on Wednesday what would happen once a grace period that had protected kosher food supplies runs out in September.

Lord Younger said this was “a key focus for government to support that community. ”

He added that while he could not give any guarantees he could stress that “every effort is being made to move forward and find solutions to these problems.”

Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat peers, along with representatives of the Ulster Union Party all stressed vital and great contribution of the Jewish community in Nothern Ireland, even though the community in Belfast is now estimated to be no bigger than 100.

Lord Polak, honorary president of the Conservative Friends of Israel group, added: “My Lords, there is a joke that the structure of Jewish holidays can be simply put as: ‘They tried to kill us; we won; let’s eat’, so availability of kosher food is important, especially to a small community as in Northern Ireland.

“The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right honourable Brandon Lewis, is a true friend of the community, and I am grateful, as has been said, that he found time to meet the Chief Rabbi and the Board of Deputies last week. ”

After the meeting last Friday Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis had said communal life there risked becoming “unviable”.

The Reverend David Kale, a minister for Belfast’s Jewish community, said he feared the ban would “cause the community to completely die”.

Responding to Lord Polak, Lord Younger said:”Perhaps a discussion on the importance of eating is for a separate debate but I take the first point that my noble friend made with the due seriousness it deserves.

“We are mindful that many communities in Northern Ireland have specialised foods which are deeply important to their culture and spiritual beliefs, and we will always act to ensure that these are adequately supplied.

“However, I assure my noble friend that, in the supermarkets we have been in touch with, we are pleased to note that there is no disruption at this time, although there were specific issues during Passover which he will know about, and which the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs  helped the sector to navigate.”

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