The chairman of Marks & Spencer warned that trade in Northern Ireland could become an “operational nightmare” and that the burden of red tape would be increased by concessions from Brussels.
Archie Norman has written to Lord Frost, the Cabinet Office minister, saying that European Commission plans could result in “worsening friction and cost and a high level of ambiguity and scope for dispute”.
Brussels has tried to prevent the triggering of Article 16 by offering to ease checks on goods coming from Great Britain into Northern Ireland. The proposals include rules on labelling to ensure that British products do not slip through the border into the Republic of Ireland.
However, Norman said that “the commission’s practical understanding of how controls impact a modern food supply chain is limited. What might seem like a simple administrative requirement turns into an operational nightmare.”
The M&S boss said the labelling requirement would add GBP9 million in extra costs annually for the 90 million products that the retailer ships to Northern Ireland. He added that certification requirements meant that vets needed to check 95 per cent of the goods it sells, which would add another 1.8 days of delays for products to reach a shop, risking a sharp increase in fresh food waste.
The retailer employs 2,092 staff in 21 stores in the province. It has a 7 per cent share of the Northern Ireland grocery market, double its proportion in the UK. M&S said last week that it had encountered GBP13 million of extra costs in the past six months relating to European Union border issues. The retailer has closed 11 shops in France, blaming the “lengthy and complex export processes” affecting fresh food after Brexit.