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Supermarkets warn Brexit rules 'unworkable' amid Northern Ireland disruption

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2-min read
Retailers are warning about the impact of new Brexit rules. Photo: Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty Images
Retailers are warning about the impact of new Brexit rules. Photo: Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty Images

UK supermarket chiefs have sounded the alarm over the threat to food supply chains in Northern Ireland posed by new Brexit trade rules.

A letter to cabinet office minister Michael Gove, seen by Yahoo Finance UK, from leading food retail chiefs warns disruption is “inevitable” unless new border requirements from April are replaced or a grace period extended.

Some Northern Irish supermarkets have already seen gaps on shelves and been forced to drop certain products or source alternative Irish goods since the start of the year.

Britain’s departure from the EU customs union and single market, and an UK-EU agreement to prevent a harder border on the island of Ireland, have instead created new barriers to trade across the Irish Channel.

READ MORE: ‘All pain, no gain’: Brexit red tape vexes UK firms and shoppers

Goods moved between Britain and Northern Ireland now face new paperwork and some even risk tariffs, as they are being partially treated like UK exports to the EU.

Regulation will be ramped up in April at the end of a current ‘grace period’ for traders like supermarkets, who will need vet-signed export health certificates for every product derived from animals and plants. Such rules are already in force for other traders.

WATCH: Brexit checks begin on goods arriving in Northern Ireland

Five UK supermarket chief executives and Helen Dickinson, the head of the British Retail Consortium, have written to the UK government calling the border arrangements “unworkable” in such a timescale.

Their letter says finding a long-term solution with the EU is “essential,” with more time needed to create one and implement it. They are “happy to discuss our issues and solutions directly with EU officials,” they say.

It appears to suggest the viability of their supply chains could be at risk, asking the government to “work with us to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Northern Irish grocery market.”

The CEOs of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Iceland, the Co-op and M&S signed the letter.

A UK government spokesman said: “A new dedicated team in Government has already been set up and will be working with supermarkets, the food industry and the Northern Ireland Executive to develop ways to streamline the movement of goods in accordance with the Protocol.

“The grace period for supermarkets and their suppliers is working well, goods continue to flow effectively between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and we are working intensively with industry as new requirements come in.”

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