Blog: Northern Ireland shoppers face Christmas shortages on shelves due to Brexit red tape, M&S boss warns – iNews

Customers in Northern Ireland will be hit by higher prices and food shortages this Christmas if the European Union refuses to scrap its red tape in the region, the chairman of Marks & Spencer has warned.

Archie Norman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the planned introduction of full post-Brexit checks in October would be “business destructive” and prevent the retailer from providing its full range.

“It’s going to be very, very serious for customers,” he added.

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Northern Ireland effectively remains inside the EU’s single market for goods in order to avoid a hard border on the island.

Border checks are carried out on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain to ensure they meet EU standards in case they cross into Ireland, but there is currently a grace period allowing for a light-touch enforcement of the rules.

Mr Norman said the retailer had already struggled to get goods into EU members Ireland and France since Britain left the European Union’s single market at the beginning of the year, due to the huge amount of paperwork that was required.

He expects his stores in Northern Ireland to suffer a similar fate if the introduction of full checks goes ahead.

“It risks being incendiary for the public in Northern Ireland because you can’t think of a more visible demonstration of how you’re no longer a full part of the United Kingdom than you can’t get your favourite Christmas products, you can’t buy M&S chicken, free range eggs, sandwiches,” he said.

The introduction of Northern Ireland the protocol, which was agreed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has forced M&S to employ vets to tick boxes and fill out forms. Switching supply chains to increase production in Ireland would increase prices, he said.

In a letter to Brexit minister David Frost, Mr Norman said M&S now completed 40,000 pages of customs documents per week to get goods into Ireland, and that will increase to 120,000 when the full rules for Northern Ireland start.

One error on a form can lead to an entire truck of 650 items being stopped, he said. M&S has cut 20 per cent of its range in Ireland.

“I really, really worry about the visibility of this because… everyone in Northern Ireland is going to see, very, very visibly, the impact of Brexit and the protocol because there will be gaps on the shelves,” he said, adding that they had already delisted some products for Christmas.

Mr Norman, who followed rivals Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda in warning about the situation, noted that Northern Ireland households already had less than half of the UK average of discretionary income, and that they now faced higher prices.

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