Airports want duty-free shopping back - but London says 'that will mean border controls'

Northern Ireland travellers and visitors are being denied access to duty free shopping
Northern Ireland travellers and visitors are being denied access to duty free shopping

THE north's three main airports have united in demanding that the British government and European Commission resume duty free service for flights from Northern Ireland to the EU, which have been denied since Brexit.

But London says that to do so "would require border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic".

From January 2021, duty free shopping from GB airports was extended to include EU destinations.

But the lucrative facility was not allowed at Belfast International, Belfast City or City of Derry airports, blamed at the time on ongoing talks around the NI Protocol

And that, they say, is resulting in multi-million pound losses each year in income.

But now industry body the UK Travel Retail Forum is coordinating a move to get the benefit reinstated.

It says it want to ensure "this is the last summer when passengers from Northern Ireland are the only ones in Europe unable to access duty free".

Its chair Nigel Keal said: “The return of duty free post-Brexit has proven incredibly popular with consumers, with overseas retailers seeing significant increases in sales of duty free goods to departing UK passengers.

“This has been a crucial financial support as the aviation and travel retail sectors recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“But preventing airports and businesses in Northern Ireland from accessing this revenue stream is unfair and puts them at a competitive disadvantage to the rest of the UK and Europe.

Following the signing of the Windsor Framework, the three airports insist it's time to correct the anomaly and return duty free facilities to Northern Ireland’s airports.

Graham Keddie, managing director at Belfast International Airport, said: "It's critical the UK Government and EU move quickly to restore balance, equality and fairness for the people of Northern Ireland as we are currently left with the worst of both worlds.

"We have raised this matter directly with HM Treasury, the Cabinet Office and the Northern Ireland Office as well as our local political parties.

"It is indefensible that the millions of passengers travelling through our airports are placed at such a significant disadvantage to those travelling through GB or RoI airports. This is costing millions of pounds in lost sales and is impacting employment and investment opportunities."

Katy Best, commercial director at Belfast City Airport, added: “Duty free shopping is a huge asset for many passengers to look forward to when travelling, but Northern Ireland passengers and visitors are being denied this opportunity to deliver key revenue which underpins continued investment in access and employment.

"Though we are sure this was not the intention of the Windsor Framework, we would urge its authors to work with industry to resolve this important issue."

And Steve Frazer, managing director at City of Derry Airport, said: “Excluding Northern Ireland’s airports from duty free shopping further erodes our ability to offer attractive and competitive options, which the modern traveller expects.

"Our three airports' combined growth has slowed significantly while competing with zero air passenger duty (APD) across the rest of the island’s airports, many of which have thrived through supportive policies conducive to economic growth."

But in response, a spokesperson for Her Majesty's Treasury (HMT) said: "The Government is committed to preserving frictionless movement of people and goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

"Allowing duty-free shopping between the two would require introducing border controls between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which undermines the Belfast Good Friday Agreement. It could also lead to significant revenue loss for both the UK and Ireland."