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M&S urges Boris Johnson to end Northern Ireland border checks

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Border in Belfast
Border in Belfast

Marks & Spencer has written to Boris Johnson urging him to use new technology to end physical border checks in Northern Ireland.

In a joint letter with major suppliers, the retailer argued that frictionless trade could be achieved with software that would remove the need for further certificates on goods in transit.

It also called for foreign lorry drivers to be given visas lasting up to three years, and said that a scheme for seasonal farming workers should be overhauled so they can remain in Britain for up to 12 months.

M&S has been one of the most vocal corporate critics of border disruption in Northern Ireland in the wake of Brexit after struggling to get English goods across the Irish Sea.

Signed by Stuart Machin, M&S's joint chief operating officer and managing director of food, the letter said: “We need a long-term sustainable solution for goods movements into Northern Ireland.

“We do not want to see Northern Ireland becoming increasingly reliant on goods from overseas at the expense of British manufacturers.

“We believe a solution can be achieved by using technology that can clearly show product from GB that moves to Northern Ireland, stays in Northern Ireland.”

The letter - which was signed by executives at 14 M&S suppliers, including poultry producer Boparan Holdings, sandwich company Greencore and yoghurt maker Muller - recommends a so-called Facilitated Movement Scheme, where accredited businesses could avoid having every product physically checked and would be able to use tracking software instead.

Such a move would go a step further than the EU’s proposals last year that allowed for fewer checks, but still required supermarkets to provide swathes of data on shipments.

The letter, first reported by The Grocer, added: “We also strongly believe that with similar technology and common sense we can make any border frictionless with no material detriment to customs controls or food safety.”

Last November, M&S's chairman Archie Norman wrote to the Prime Minister to say that Brussels’ proposed trade agreement would result in more red tape.

Mr Machin said: “We all want the British food industry to have a sustainable future, but this will need both Government and industry to act together. Decisively and quickly.”

A UK Government spokesman said: “The Northern Ireland Protocol is not working. That is why we are in intensive talks with the EU to get a better solution that protects stability in Northern Ireland and protects the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

“The UK Government’s proposals are pragmatic and common sense: only goods going to the EU should face checks and processes and there should be no checks for goods staying in the UK.”

The UK and the EU are holding more talks this week.

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