The chairman of Marks and Spencer has warned that Northern Ireland customers could face less Christmas food choices and higher prices in store this year as Brexit takes its full toll on imports.
Customers here will not be able to avail of its pre-Christmas food ordering service either.
Archie Norman said supply chain issues coming into Northern Ireland are “about get worse” when the Protocol is fully implemented after the current grace period ends on September 30.
In an article for the Mail on Sunday, he said: “The result would be substantial reduction in food supply from the UK to Northern Ireland and an increase in prices for its citizens. Already, M&S has had to cancel sales of our Christmas Food to Order, our top-end range service, into Northern Ireland because we just don’t know if we can get it there.”
In an interview with BBC Radio 4 earlier this summer, he said: “This Christmas, I can tell you already, we’re having to make decisions to delist product for Northern Ireland because it’s simply not worth the risk of trying to get it through.”
Mr Norman did not detail the exact lines that will be hit but it is most likely to be animal related products coming in from GB.
However an M&S spokesperson told the Belfast Telegraph that the pre-ordering service will be hit more than what is available in store this festive season.
He said: “We have yet to launch Christmas Food to Order for 2021. However, unfortunately, we do not believe we will be able to deliver this service for customers in Northern Ireland this year. We will of course, continue to stock a wide range of delicious Christmas products in our stores across Northern Ireland.”
The protocol is the means by which a hard border is avoided on the island of Ireland. It sees Northern Ireland continue to follow certain EU rules on goods, and thus it creates a de facto sea border with GB, which has angered unionists.
These rules mean any product with animal-related ingredients must have a stamped paper veterinary certificate coming in from outside the EU.
Mr Norman said: “The result is a fandango of bureaucracy, extra costs and food waste.”
He revealed that some of the retailer’s trucks, on average, travel to ports in GB with 700 pages of documentation, “equivalent to three paperback books”.
Northern Ireland had been afforded a Brexit grace period until September 30, after which it will follow the same rules as the rest of Europe concerning food imports from Great Britain.
The retail chief suggested the EU agrees on an ‘equivalence’ to mitigate shortages and additional costs.
He explained: “This means the EU and UK recognise each other’s standards so can trade without checks. In a rational world, we would all agree on equivalence tomorrow. Given there are no significant changes planned on food standards, a period of equivalence would be in everyone’s interest, should common sense have its day.
“This is not a one-way street. At the moment, the Irish Government is following EU guidelines and implementing their draconian controls. But by contrast, the UK has allowed EU products to continue to flow into the country, no veterinary checks, no border inspection.
“Starting in October, that is going to change when UK Government rules are set to mirror those of the EU. So in a mutual act of self-destruction, we risk lumbering French cheese producers and Spanish chorizo manufacturers with the same costs as we have faced trying to export food to the EU.”
He said “delays, driver shortages and paper mountains could be spectacular”.