© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A man sorts a washing machine delivery with a sign across the street with a message against Brexit border controls related to the Northern Ireland Protocol in Larne city center, Northern Ireland. February 12th
LONDON (Reuters) – The introduction of full customs controls between the UK and Northern Ireland risks becoming “arson” if the province’s customers see higher prices, empty shelves and the loss of favorite products, said one of the country’s largest retailers.
Archie Norman, chairman of Marks & Spencer (OTC :), told BBC Radio that the planned introduction of full post-Brexit checks in October would threaten his business and prevent the grocery and clothing retailer from offering its full range.
Customs officials have so far taken a light approach to the control of goods entering Northern Ireland from the UK under a protocol system that aimed to keep the provincial border with EU member Ireland open while preventing goods from passing unchecked this limit will enter the EU internal market.
Norman said the retailer has struggled to get goods into EU members Ireland and France since the UK exited the European Union’s internal market earlier this year due to the enormous amount of paperwork.
He expects his business in Northern Ireland to suffer a similar fate if full controls go ahead.
“There is a danger that it will become very dangerous to the public in Northern Ireland because you cannot think of a more visible demonstration that you are no longer a full part of the UK than if you cannot get your favorite Christmas products. Don’t buy M&S chicken, free-range eggs, sandwiches, “he said.
“It’s getting very, very serious for customers.”
The protocol considers Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods. Norman said M&S employed 13 full-time veterinarians to check boxes and fill out forms. Shifting supply chains to increase production in Ireland would raise prices, he said.
“I’m really, really worried about the visibility of this because … everyone in Northern Ireland will be very, very visibly seeing the effects of Brexit and the protocol because there will be gaps on the shelves,” he said, adding they had already some products removed from the list for Christmas.
Following rivals Tesco (OTC :), Sainsburys and Asda, Norman has written to British Brexit Minister David Frost warning of the impact.
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