Boris Johnson Warns of 'Jewish Exodus' Out of Northern Ireland Over Threat to Kosher Food

Post-Brexit trade dispute threatens to cut off access to kosher food in Northern Ireland, British PM says, as Jewish group warns of end to Jewish life in Belfast

Sam Sokol
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes questions in Parliament, in London, last month.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes questions in Parliament, in London, last month.Credit: UK PARLIAMENT/JESSICA TAYLOR/
Sam Sokol

An ongoing post-Brexit trade dispute between the European Union and Great Britain centered on Northern Ireland has threatened to cut off access to kosher food, raising the possibility that Jews would be forced to leave the province, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Wednesday.

Addressing parliament, Johnson said that Jewish communal representatives had “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" and that they were beginning to speak about the possibility of “an exodus from Northern Ireland.”

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“Now 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,” he stated, referring to an EU-UK body tasked with implementing the Northern Ireland protocol, part of the Brexit divorce deal Britain agreed with the bloc.

The protocol seeks to find a delicate balance between keeping open the border to protect the 1998 Good Friday peace deal that ended three decades of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland and stopping goods flowing unchecked into the EU.

It effectively keeps Northern Ireland in a customs union with the EU while the rest of the United Kingdom is outside it, but this requires controls on goods arriving from mainland Britain. Disruptions to deliveries of some products have angered some pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland.

Earlier this week, the EU urged London to consider a Swiss-style veterinary agreement with Brussels on agriculturally food production to end a post-Brexit so-called sausage war row over certain goods moving between Britain and its province of Northern Ireland.

On Tuesday, the Board of Deputies of British Jews announced that its president, Marie van der Zyl – along with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Belfast Jewish community chairman Michael Black and local religious leader Reverend David Kale – had met with Northern Irish Secretary Brandon Lewis “to urge the Government to take action to avoid the Northern Ireland Protocol potentially ending Jewish life in Belfast.”

In a statement, the Board stated that that Lewis had “pledged his support, as well as that of the Prime Minister and the Government’s lead EU negotiator Lord Frost” but warned that if the kosher food supply comes to an end in September, as expected under the Northern Ireland Protocol, “the community is likely to collapse.”

“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 practice their faith in Northern Ireland,” van der Zyl said.

In a tweet, chief Rabbi Mirvis declared his gratitude for Lewis’ “commitment to urgently work with EU counterparts to resolve Protocol challenges preventing the precious Northern Irish Jewish community from accessing kosher food provision.”

Despite London’s assurances to the Jewish community, the larger trade dispute is far from settled.

On Thursday, Brexit minister David Frost said that his country will not adopt European Union legislation on agriculturally produced food to solve difficulties with post-Brexit trade with Northern Ireland, urging Brussels to be more flexible to end a so-called sausage war.

In regard to the suggested EU legislation on agriculturally produced foods, Frost said that “aligning with, or adopting, the EU's agri-food legislation is not going to be a solution.”

According to the 2016 Irish census, there are now 2,557 Jews in Ireland, a 28.9 percent increase from 2011, when the last census was taken. Over half of all Jews in Ireland (1,539) live in the capital, Dublin.

The organized Jewish community numbers around 100 members, according to the European Jewish Congress.

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