M and S set to 'buy EU supplies for Northern Irish stores' following 'Protocol difficulties'

Mon 24 May 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News


Marks & Spencer is looking to buy in more products from the EU for its Northern Irish stores to counter border disruption relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol, the Daily Telegraph has claimed.

The firm already temporarily stopped selling hundreds of items in the region back in January while rivals, including Sainsbury, have also reported being impacted by new rules for goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Recently introduced rules for products containing processed meats are thought to be among the reasons for the change in strategy.

New rules for foods

Since New Year’s Eve, businesses moving goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland have been required to complete declarations because of the Protocol that was agreed in 2019’s Withdrawal Agreement.

Firms moving goods subject to sanitary or phytosanitary (SPS) controls – including meat and plant products – are also subject to further rules, including the need to complete export health certificates.

However, the British government has implemented grace periods for supermarkets and their suppliers in which these controls have been suspended.

Certification change

Some agrifood movements between GB and NI have required export health certificates to be completed since 21 April, despite the government’s easements, as reported in HMRC’s Trader Support Service weekly bulletin.

These goods include chilled or frozen products that include processed meat – for example, M&S’s oven-ready lasagne product which is currently made in England.

‘Obscene and a disgrace’

However M&S is now, according to the Telegraph, going to reshape its supply chains and buy in more goods from the EU for its stores in NI.

The supermarket’s chief executive Steve Rowe is expected to give more details when announcing the firm’s annual results later this week.

Clive Black, a retail analyst at house broker Shore Capital, told the Telegraph: “It’s obscene and a disgrace that bureaucrats in Brussels are thinking there is something potentially illegal or wrong with M&S lasagne.”

Viability challenge

A survey by the Irish Farmers’ Journal and KPMG, reported by the BBC, has found that agri-foods will continue to pose the biggest problems for the British government in relation to the NI Protocol.

The report found “commercial viability challenges” from a system that required the same veterinary certification for a consignment of 1kg of cheese as for one containing 20-tonnes.

Respondents included Kerry Group, Fane Valley, Finnebrogue and Lidl.