Marks & Spencer DC

M&S COO Stuart Machin’s letter to Boris Johnson was co-signed by 14 other industry heavy hitters

M&S has called for the UK and EU to approve a technology-based solution to end all checks and certifications on supermarket goods moving from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.

In a letter to the prime minister, the retailer’s COO and Food MD, Stuart Machin, told Boris Johnson he believed “frictionless trade” could be achieved by using traceability technology that could “clearly show product from GB that moves to Northern Ireland stays in Northern Ireland”.

“By using this technology, you should be able to remove certification requirements,” he said.

The Grocer understands M&S’s proposed plan is a “stage further” from the EU’s proposals in October that allowed for a reduction in checks but still required supermarkets to provide full supply chain traceability and comprehensive product data.

“This [solution] would negate the need for regular checks because [the EU] could just look at our systems, audit selected loads, and see for themselves when their product left the GB distribution centre and when it arrived in our stores in Northern Ireland,” said Alec Brown, M&S head of public and regional affairs.

Marks & Spencer COO Stuart Machin’s letter to PM Boris Johnson: in full

“Over time through their audits, they could see that the goods were only staying in NI. Hopefully that would give them the confidence that goods weren’t going into a single market and remove the need for certificates and checks on the border.”

M&S believes that with “similar technology and common sense”, it would be possible to make any border frictionless with no detriment to customs controls or food safety.

Machin added: “This could be achieved by a Facilitated Movement Scheme which would be based on having a framework where only approved and accredited firms could move from ‘every product checked and 100% accuracy’ to a risk-based approach underpinned by statutory enforcement, an audit scheme with requests for certification and physical checks based on risk and specific intelligence, and penalties for failure.”

M&S has been one of the most outspoken voices in the industry in regards to Brexit regulation affecting trade on the NI border. Last November, Chairman Archie Norman wrote to Brexit minister at the time David Frost to warn Brussels’ proposed trade agreement would result in more, not less, red tape.

He said the bloc’s offer “could result in worsening friction and cost and a high level of ambiguity and scope for dispute”.

The grocer had previously slammed the UK government and the EU’s preparedness for new border checks, which were set to be introduced in October once the grace period ended.

The UK government then decided to postpone the new trading arrangements and checks on the island of Ireland indefinitely. Britain and the EU have been locked in talks since then.


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In addition to the NI proposals, the M&S COO also set out, in his letter to Johnson, a list of other measures the UK government should adopt in order to help the food sector thrive in the long run.

These included more flexible visa protocols for European HGV drivers and farm workers, the creation of a Food and Agritech Research Council to boost innovation in food production, and repurposing the Apprenticeship Levy programme to also focus on “middle skills” such as HGV driving and production line maintenance.

Machin added the government needed to ramp up its support of the food industry if it wanted to achieve its “higher wage, higher skill economy” goals, and that the transition to a high productivity model “cannot simply be turned on like a light switch”.

His letter to the prime minister was co-signed by 14 other industry heavy hitters, including Boparan, Cranswick, Müller UK & Ireland, Greencore and Bakkavor.

“Over the past two years, the food industry has worked around the clock to feed the nation whilst managing the ‘once in a century’ challenge arising from Covid and Brexit,” it read.

“As the nation’s largest private sector employer, it is a testament to the hard work of our fantastic colleagues that we have been able to navigate these challenges. Throughout this period, the government has been a valued partner.

“But as we look ahead to 2022 and beyond, we need to continue that partnership to build a sustainable, resilient food sector for the long term.”