Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned of an “exodus” of Jews from Northern Ireland if problems with the post-Brexit arrangements for the Irish border lead to further shortages of kosher supplies.
To avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the government’s Brexit deal included a section called the Northern Ireland Protocol, under which products moving across the Irish Sea would be checked at ports to make sure they comply with EU rules.
But this week, Jewish groups both sides of the Irish Sea met with the government to warn that the Northern Ireland Protocol was putting Jewish life in the region in jeopardy.
Currently, some kosher food continues to flow to the Jewish community in Northern Ireland, but only under interim arrangements that expire at the end of September.
Speaking at the Commons Liaison Committee on Wednesday, Boris Johnson said,“Only yesterday there were very serious representations from the Jewish community in Northern Ireland, who pointed out that because of the problem with the food sector, it was becoming difficult for them to have timely access—or any access—to kosher food.
“They are talking now about an exodus from Northern Ireland by the Jewish community. Clearly, we want to do everything we can to avoid that and to sort it out.”
“But it’s going to take our friends in the joint committee to make some movement and to make that movement pretty fast.”
Jewish groups have expressed concern that if kosher food and religious artefacts cannot be supplied at all when the Northern Ireland Protocol is fully implemented, its community of around 100 people is likely to collapse.
But the PM indicated that the UK government is not planning any concessions on its side to help resolve the situation.
He suggested that the onus was on the EU, rather than the UK, to make concessions in the joint committee set up to oversee the operations of his Northern Ireland protocol, which avoided a hard border with the Republic by effectively creating a customs border in the Irish Sea.
And he insisted that the UK had “faithfully” fulfilled its side of the protocol bargain, despite the launch by Brussels of legal action over unilateral breaches by London.
The Prime Minister’s comments followed a meeting on Tuesday between Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Reverend David Kale and Michael Black of the Belfast Jewish Community and President of the Board of Deputies Marie van der Zyl.
Marie van der Zyl said: “The Belfast Jewish community is a great community with a rich history, but also an older and vulnerable one.
“We thank the Minister for his time, and urge the UK and the EU to generate a creative solution which means that Jews can continue to practise their faith in Northern Ireland.”
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