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FACTCHECK

FactCheck: Is the protocol stopping Jewish people in the North from practising their religion?

The claim was made by former Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis.

For general Factchecks not about Covid

WITH THE OUSTING of Boris Johnson from 10 Downing St, questions are being raised about his eventual successor’s attitude to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

In the final months of his tenure, Johnson’s government controversially sought to override the protocol, a legal arrangement which allows Northern Ireland to remain in the EU single market.

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, who was one of a barrage of ministers who quit last week, claimed recently that the Jewish community in Northern Ireland “can’t technically practice their religion” because of the protocol.

He has previously said that the protocol would make it more difficult to access kosher goods in the North because of the amount of paperwork involved in importing them.

britain-politics Brandon Lewis Alberto Pezzali Alberto Pezzali

The protocol ensures that goods imported in the North are not subject to checks if they cross the border into the Republic of Ireland, but this means they may be subject to checks if they are coming from Britain.

So, is Lewis’s claim true?

Let’s take a closer look.

The Claim

Brandon Lewis claimed that the Jewish community in Northern Ireland “technically” can’t practice their religion because of the NI protocol.

Speaking to Times Radio, Lewis said:

What we’re talking about is fixing here some of the issues in terms of the implementation of the protocol that is so detrimentally affecting Northern Ireland, both GB businesses who can’t supply Northern Ireland, people across Northern Ireland who can’t get access to goods [and] the Jewish community [who] can’t technically practise their religion.

He added that the UK Government has a duty to protect the Good Friday Agreement and would attempt to do so by passing the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

The Evidence

The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement between the EU and UK following Brexit and was designed as a way of preventing the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The Protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU Single Market for goods, creating checks on trade between Britain and the North, but it also keeps Northern Ireland in the UK’s Customs territory.

The EU is working on the assumption that Great Britain is now a third country and checks and controls are being carried out to make sure that what enters the single market meets EU standards.

This all means that Northern Ireland effectively remains part of the EU’s single market for goods and that there are instead checks on certain products which come from the rest of the United Kingdom – effectively putting the border in the Irish Sea.

This includes any meat products, which must adhere to EU standards and regulations when they are imported to the North.

Meat is particularly tightly regulated in the EU because of past controversies such as foot and mouth disease and the horse meat scandal.

And because of the EU’s strict standards, there are no exceptions for religious foodstuffs.

Northern Ireland’s Jewish community has said that this affects them, and has been warning for several months that its access to kosher foods is at risk.

The community is quite small: the 2011 Census, the last for which full results of religious breakdown have been published, put the figure at 335 people.

They say they are impacted by the protocol because they import kosher meat – that is, meat that meets the requirements of Jewish dietary law – from a supplier in England.

There is still one supplier to the North, but all the red tape has been a “nightmare”, according to Michael Black, the chair of the Belfast Jewish Community.

“We have to rely on a willing retailer and carrier to work their way through all the red tape that has to be complied with to import these products from England,” he said.

Black recently said that while “no one is starving” in the community because of the protocol, supplies are certainly “limited”.

Katy Hayward, a professor of political sociology in Queen’s University Belfast and an expert on the protocol, explained that many such businesses are questioning whether it’s worth exporting to the North because of the additional costs and bureaucracy involved.

“A big thing around the consequences of the protocol is British businesses weighing up whether it’s worth their while supplying the Northern Ireland market,” she told The Journal.

“So particularly for the Jewish community, which is very small, the addition of the requirements was not seen as being worth it.”

In theory, there is also nothing to stop the Jewish community in the North from buying kosher goods from the Republic, though this would cost considerably more than purchasing from their local supplier.

Maurice Cohen, the chair of the Jewish Representative Council in Ireland, told The Journal that there would be an additional cost in delivery charges on products to the North, on Jewish people from NI driving down to Ireland, as well as the currency exchange.

“On top of these additional charges, the Kosher food that we get here from Europe tends to be considerably higher in price than that which is available in the UK,” he said.

“The UK manufactures a great deal of products which keeps the costs lower.”

So, while the protocol has made the purchase of kosher food more difficult, it is still possible for Jewish people in the North to practice their religion while the protocol is in place.

Verdict

Brandon Lewis argued the Jewish community can’t technically practise their religion as a result of new restrictions. A spokesperson for the Jewish community told us that the protocol measures meant kosher food supplies were now more limited.

While the protocol has made it more difficult to access kosher goods in the North, it is still possible to do so, either from Britain or the Republic of Ireland.

As a result, we rate the specific claim made by Brandon Lewis to be: MISLEADING.

As per our verdict guide, this means the claim either intentionally or unintentionally misleads readers.

Contains reporting from Press Association.

The Journal’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

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