Northern Ireland retailers 'experiencing Brexit disruption'

Tesco said there has been a short delay on certain products. Picture by Nick Potts/PA
Michael McHugh and Rebecca Black, PA

Major retailers into Northern Ireland - including M&S and Tesco - have experienced temporary disruption while they adapt to post-Brexit arrangements, the industry has said.

Marks and Spencer has paused delivery of a small proportion of product lines to ensure its lorries are not turned away at ports like Belfast or Larne.

There may be less choice but firms are working hard to continue to provision the country, a representative of most major supermarkets said.

Customs declarations need to be made for many items arriving in Northern Ireland.

An M&S spokesman said: "We have served customers in Northern Ireland for over 50 years and our priority is to make sure we continue to deliver the same choice and great quality range that our loyal customers have always enjoyed.

"Stores have been receiving regular deliveries this week, however following the UK's recent departure from the EU, we are transitioning to new processes and we're working closely with our partners and suppliers to ensure customers can continue to enjoy a great range of products."

A protocol agreed between the EU and UK is designed to reduce friction on trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland following a divorce deal avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The country is following the rules of the EU single market to avoid a hard Irish border and has shifted checks on food standards to Irish Sea ports.

Customs declarations are also required in many cases on products coming in.

A Tesco statement said: "We have a good supply of products coming into Northern Ireland.

"There has been a short delay on certain products but we're working with suppliers to get these back on the shelves as quickly as possible and direct customers to alternatives where we can."

Some regulations, like for parcels, were only given to retailers and logistics firms on December 31, which did not give any time to prepare, Aodhán Connolly said.

That meant some retailers stopped shipping parcels for a short period but the majority have now come back online.

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium representative said: "There has been some disruption to supply in other areas too while some Great Britain suppliers get used to a new way of trading with Northern Ireland and this was exacerbated by the days that fresh food was not able to pass from the EU to Great Britain."

Cross-Channel traffic between Calais and Dover was temporarily halted before Christmas due to the new strain of coronavirus.

Mr Connolly added: "But retailers are adept at quickly changing supply chains and while there may be slightly less choice there is plenty of stock.

"However, in the long-term we will need the UK government and the EU to work with us to find long-term workable simplifications that keep choice and affordability for Northern Irish families while keeping Northern Irish business competitive."

Hauliers have described being "overwhelmed" by red tape due to new checks on deliveries to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Customs experts involved in supporting traders are working days behind schedule, Seamus Leheny from LogisticsUK has said.

Northern Ireland's chief vet has said many animal product deliveries arriving at the ports during the first week of the year did not have the correct paperwork and firms had to be helped to comply with EU regulation.

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