Enforcement of EU trade rules on Irish Sea trade threatening M&S operations, chairman warns

Marks & Spencer

The “pointless” enforcement of EU rules on Irish Sea trade is threatening Marks and Spencer’s business operations on the island of Ireland, its chairman has warned.

Archie Norman outlined his concerns about the impact of post-Brexit trading arrangements in a letter to Brexit minister Lord Frost.

He said the issue was less about the new trading rules and rather the rigorous enforcement of them that is causing problems to the business.

“It is not the overall purposes of the customs union that are the problem. It is the pointless and byzantine way in which the regime is enforced that is so business destructive,” he wrote.

Norman signalled M&S’s support for a form of veterinary deal on food safety standards between the EU and UK as a way to remove many of the new checks and processes on Irish Sea trade.

He said M&S was no longer able to ship many products into the Irish Republic from Great Britain as a result of the Brexit arrangements, and warned of the prospect of supply disruption on a similar scale on Northern Ireland-bound goods after the expiry of grace periods that currently limit the volume of red tape on GB to NI trade.

The company chair said M&S was already planning to cut a number of Christmas products for sale in Northern Ireland.

“The point about the current arrangements is that they are totally unsuited and were never designed for a modern fresh food supply chain between closely intertwined trading partners,” he wrote.

“They serve no purpose in terms of food safety and customer protection.

“Indeed M&S food standards are amongst the highest in the world and we are prepared to comply in every way with EU requirements if required.”

Norman listed what he described was “Kafkaesque bureaucracy” the company has encountered, including trucks being unable to enter the island of Ireland due to incorrect pen ink on paperwork and product delays due to a dispute over the dairy content of chocolate chip cookies.

In regard to potential solutions, Norman added: “By far the easiest solution would be to agree a time limited veterinary/food standards agreement.

“I understand why the Government is not favourably disposed to this solution, but it is by far the best way of delivering a smooth trade flow.”

Norman said M&S’s commitment to Northern Ireland remained strong, noting the company employs 4,000 people in the region.

“However the issues we are facing as a direct result of the current customs arrangements and compliance regime to the Republic and, in all likelihood, in the North are very threatening to our business,” he added.