M&S warns 15% of food lines under threat in Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland: Marks & Spencer says up to 15% of its food products could be unavailable in its Northern Ireland shops in January when Northern Ireland stays in the single market for goods but the rest of the UK leaves.

The UK and EU are strill negotiating how these rules should be applied on food entering Northern Ireland from Britain. This is separate from the talks about a trade deal.

At issue are Export Health Certificates needed for animal products including milk, meat, fish and eggs. The certificates are signed by a vet and are likely to add significant costs to any shipments. And EU rules could prevent shipping of high risk foods such as chilled mince and sausages.

Marks & Spencer said retailers need urgent answers from government on several aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol, particularly on certification and labelling and warned “if clarity is not given soon there is a risk to supply from the UK mainland, which could limit customer choice in Northern Ireland.”

UK supermarkets and the government are pressing the EU to show maximum flexibility on this issue, but nothing has yet been agreed. If there is disruption to NI food supplies in January, it is possible that the UK government could trigger the safeguards clause in the Brexit withdrawal deal.

Northern Ireland businesses leaders have called for a further transition period whether there is a deal or not. Addressing MPs on the issue of the Irish Sea border, Stephen Kelly from Manufacturing NI said: “Northern Ireland’s business community will not be ready for the first of January, quite simply.”

Aodhán Connolly from the NI Retail Consortium said business was being given six weeks to implement changes which would normally take two years.

“What we feel is happening at the moment is the political effort is going into the free trade agreement and because of that neither side wants to give flexibilities on Northern Ireland because it can be seen as leverage,” he said.
He expressed hope that if a trade deal can be reached then the talks on Northern Ireland issues can be intensified.

Victor Chestnutt from the Ulster Farmers’ Union said it was “only now sinking in” that Northern Ireland would be treated differently from the rest of the UK.


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