Agriculture Minister accused of scaremongering after claiming hospitals and schools risk running out of food

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has been accused of scaremongering after claiming Northern Ireland's hospitals and schools risk running out of food when post-Brexit trade arrangements are fully implemented.

Speaking in a radio interview on Thursday morning, the DUP MLA said: "It was made very clear to us by the suppliers to both hospitals and schools that if the current arrangement for supermarkets isn't extended in a few months' time that they will not be able to supply our hospitals and schools with food."

Some supermarkets have experienced disruption in the supply of their stock travelling from Great Britain, despite having a grace period during which they do not have to fully comply with new checks.

Once the exemption for retail food expires at the end of March, supermarkets will have to comply with more rigorous animal health certification processes under the terms of Brexit's Northern Ireland Protocol.

However, Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard has accused Mr Poots, whose party campaigned for Brexit, of "peddling panic needlessly".

In a series of online posts, Mr Hazzard also shared pictures of fully stocked shelves in a supermarket in Northern Ireland.

Mr Hazzard claimed Mr Poots was trying to "divert the gaze of angry supporters who are angry at Irish Sea Border".

Speaking to UTV, Mr Poots rejected suggestions his party was partly to blame for the situation, given its support for Brexit and its opposition to the withdrawal deal negotiated by former Prime Minister Theresa May.

"The issue of food coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland is an issue that we highlighted last year whenever the withdrawal agreement was being negotiated. We objected to it in Westminster," he said.

"Brexit was happening this is a protocol issue, the people that need to own the protocol is the SDLP, Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party and the Green Party, who all called for its rigorous enforcement."

Mr Hazzard, however, said: "The Brexit that DUP/Boris delivered was inevitably going to upend supply chains and business models of local industry.

"Sinn Féin, in partnership with other political parties and the wider community, have been working tirelessly to mitigate the worst effects of DUP / Tory Brexit since 2016."