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Marks and Spencer boss: Northern Ireland Protocol could lead to paperwork taking eight times longer

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Marks and Spencer has had to withdraw about 600 products from its stores in the Republic of Ireland since Brexit (Charlotte Ball/PA)

Marks and Spencer has had to withdraw about 600 products from its stores in the Republic of Ireland since Brexit (Charlotte Ball/PA)

Marks and Spencer has had to withdraw about 600 products from its stores in the Republic of Ireland since Brexit (Charlotte Ball/PA)

The Managing Director for Marks and Spencer across the island of Ireland has said that full implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol could lead to paperwork taking eight times as long.

Some vans that required six documents before Brexit now require 600, M&S director Sacha Berendji said.

He added that there is a “substantial difference” between exporting goods to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

At present easements in Northern Ireland mean that it takes approximately 20 people just one hour to process food shipments.

However, if the protocol was fully implemented it could take the same amount of people eight hours because of the sheer amount of paperwork required.

Despite this, there is a silver lining, whereby more than 450 products sold in M&S stores across the island of Ireland are now sourced in Ireland.

Mr Berendji told the House of Lord’s Sub-Committee on the Protocol that their stores in the Belfast area, along with Glasgow, have some of M&S’s highest food market shares in the entire company.

What exactly is the Northern Ireland Protocol?

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“We are very committed to our business in Northern Ireland and have had continuity of trade there over the past 54 years and it is a business we would like to grow and expand,” he told the meeting.

That being said, he did point out that Brexit has meant that the company has had to “significantly adjust” their supply chain.

“Whilst our business is significant in Ireland it’s not big enough to stand up its own supply chain, so the vast majority of our goods continue to be shipped from GB to Northern Ireland,” he said.

“In order to facilitate this, we had to create a new export centre where all products are shipped to Motherwell.”

He said previously goods would have been shipped to their depot the night before, ready to be shipped the following morning, but the process now requires an extra 24 hours meaning there has been a greater impact on shelf life of their products.

There has also been higher waste levels of food and an impact on availability, where in the Republic of Ireland there are 600 out of 7,000 products unavailable to be shipped.

“It can take around 20 people just one hour to dispatch every vehicle with the correct documentation to Northern Ireland, that number is eight hours for the Republic of Ireland, so that begs the question – if these easements weren’t in place for us, every vehicle would take an extra seven hours,” the managing director explained.

“That is because every vehicle that goes to the Republic of Ireland needs to be certificated so that is a significant difference to the arrangements currently in Northern Ireland.

“To help mitigate this we have built and recruited a local sourcing team for the island of Ireland and are now sourcing around 450 products locally including short shelf life products like sandwiches, which are made in Newry and supply all 38 stores across the island of Ireland,” he added.

“We are now also looking into importing EU to EU products into the Republic of Ireland but for now the majority of our goods will need to be shipped from GB into Northern Ireland.

“While we have helped to mitigate this to make it easier, it is a very complex process indeed.”

Mr Berendii said that, pre-Brexit, one van would have left the depot with about six pieces of paper, but now because of the complex process of importing and exporting goods across the Irish Sea, some vans could require up to 600 pieces.

“There must be a digital solution,” he said.

“In terms of simplification, we are certificating every product every day and the reality is that the certificate issued on the Monday came from the same source it did on the Sunday, and therefore if we could move to a trusted model where we only had to do that once every certain period of time and our job was to make sure those records are up to date that would take a lot of the friction out of it and ease trade on both sides.”


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