M&S CEO worries that EU regulations will lead to higher grocery pricing and bare shelves.
Customers in Northern Ireland will face skyrocketing costs and shelf shortages if the European Union refuses to eliminate its red tape in the region, according to a MARKS & SPENCER executive.
Archie Norman, the chairman of Marks & Spencer, said post-Brexit inspections with the Republic of Ireland are “pointless” and “threaten” the company’s business. However, he warned that once the border fix in the Brexit divorce deal is fully implemented in Northern Ireland, the same concerns would arise. Mr Norman’s warning comes as the government prepares to announce steps to revamp the trading system.
The supermarket boss wrote to Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, saying the EU’s present customs laws were “completely inappropriate and never built for a modern fresh food supply chain involving intimately entwined partners.”
Northern Ireland stays inside the EU’s single market, with a number of customs regulations on goods shipped from the rest of the UK, in order to avoid a hard border.
Mr Norman cautioned that once the grace periods allowed for light-touch enforcement of the laws expire, the region’s grocery shelves could be empty.
“There is no alternative conclusion for consumers in Northern Ireland in the end but increased costs, given the regulatory regime’s inflationary pressures on retailers,” he said.
“Keeping the show on the road, let alone increasing it, will be extremely difficult.”
M&S has been obliged to hire 14 full-time veterinarians to assist with the documentation required to export commonplace products into the EU and Northern Ireland, such as sandwiches.
Mr Norman claimed that the highly experienced practitioners were “just ticking boxes and filling out forms” to certify products.
He explained that “sandwiches normally require three veterinarian certificates to pass.”
The M&S executive warned it would be “incendiary” for the public in Northern Ireland if EU red tape is fully imposed by the end of September.
Mr Norman’s letter was regarded by No10 as a “stern warning” of “basic issues with the Protocol.”
“That is why, as the Protocol itself intended, we must urgently address these concerns to ensure that there is little interruption to people’s lives in Northern Ireland,” a spokeswoman added.
Later today, Lord Frost and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis will outline the Government’s approach to the protocol in the Brexit deal to avoid a hard border.
They will most likely issue a warning. “Brinkwire News in Condensed Form.”