Border retailers fear Brexit 'will lead to increase in smuggling'

The smuggling of alcohol and cigarettes will only get worse after Brexit, according to border retailers
Gary McDonald Business Editor

BUSINESSES on both sides of the Irish border are being hit harder in the pocket by smuggling - and fear their situation will only be exacerbated by Brexit.

Since last year, border retailers in both jurisdictions are 70 per cent more concerned about the impact Brexit will have on smuggling and the sale of illicit goods in their communities.

Their fears will be aired at a summit in Belfast on Friday organised by Retailers Against Smuggling (RAS), which will see high-level round-table discussions involving members of the Irish Government, An Garda Síochána, the PSNI and HMRC.

A cross-border survey conducted by RAS recorded responses from retailers in the counties of Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan, Sligo and Louth, along with retailers in the north.

It found that 60 per cent overall retailers in Northern Ireland have noticed an increase in the trade of smuggled products in the past year, while 90 per cent of border retailers in Ireland believe the trade of smuggled products impacts their profits by up to 10 per cent.

It's worse in the north, where 43 per cent of border retailers estimate this same impact to be 10-to-20 per cent of their turnover.

Last year around 520 million illegal cigarettes were consumed in Ireland, representing a loss to the Exchequer of more than £200 million.

RAS spokesman and Dublin based retailer Benny Gilsenan said: “It's not just the loss of revenue from missing out on the sale of a packet of cigarettes or bottle of wine.

"Retailers find that when a customer doesn't buy these in their shop, they're not buying their pint of milk, they're not buying their sliced pan with us either. It has a huge knock on effect on small businesses, and this is seen on both sides of the border.”

Lorraine Higgins, chief executive of Retail Excellence Ireland, said: “Greater consideration needs to be given to the challenges retailers are facing, and how Brexit will only exacerbate those difficulties.

"Rising excise tax has proven to be an ineffective way of dealing with the problem, we need to see the Sale of Illicit Goods Bill introduced so that progress can finally be made.”

Retail NI's chief executive Glyn Roberts added: “It's become strikingly clear that more resources need to be made available to tackling the issue of smuggling in Ireland. Government needs to listen to retailers and provide the necessary supports.”

A key driving force for the illicit trading of tobacco and alcohol is the continuously increasing level of excise duty on products.

The survey also revealed a shocking lack of trust in the resources made available to the authorities by the government, with only a fifth of retailers believing the PSNI and An Garda have the resources they need to deal with smuggling and illicit trade in their area of the border.

Some 63 per cent Northern Irish border retailers say they would not report illicit trading because they believed it would make little difference.

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