The British government has said the Northern Ireland protocol that governs trade rules between the country and the rest of the UK following Brexit are in need of "significant change".
Outlining proposals for an alternative, Brexit minister Lord Frost and Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis said the current rules are placing "ever more unsustainable burdens" on Northern Irish businesses and causing significant disruption.
In a joint statement, Lord Frost and Mr Lewis said: "We have seen reductions in supermarket product lines. We have seen more than 200 suppliers decide they would no longer sell to Northern Ireland. We have seen difficulties not just on the famous chilled meats but also on medicines, on pets, on movements of live animals, on seeds and plants."
They added that talks with the EU to try and resolve issues related to the protocol have failed to solve the key underlying disagreements and the situation cannot continue in its current form.
While the statement ruled out for now implementing Article 16 of the protocol, which would see the government suspend certain provisions such as checks, they did express the view that the UK "would be justified" if it were to do so.
The Northern Ireland protocol is intended to ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland following Brexit. It therefore means that, while the rest of the UK left the EU single market at the start of 2021, Northern Ireland remained. As a result, certain goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are required to undergo customs checks when crossing the Irish Sea.
Brussels has suggested the need for many of the checks could be waived if the UK were to agree to adhere to EU standards on issues such as food safety. However, the UK has rejected this, instead arguing that the EU should accept British standards as being equivalent to its own.
The statement comes shortly after a range of British retailers warned they would have to consider shifting their supply chains from the UK to the EU unless issues surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol are resolved.
Chief executives of Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, Marks & Spencer, Iceland and The Co-operative Group all signed on to a letter sent to Lord Frost and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic. It said that when grace periods expire in October, the need for increased checks at Northern Irish ports and additional paperwork requirements, such as the need for Export Health Certificates on products of animal origin, will make current supply chains unviable.
“Much more needs to be done before the end of September if there is not to be significant disruption to supply and an increase in cost for Northern Ireland consumers," the letter stated.