Retailers and suppliers have slammed the government’s proposed solution to solve the Northern Ireland Brexit crisis, warning it risks putting retailers and suppliers out of business because of extra costs and driving up prices for shoppers.
The Prime Minister yesterday outlined plans that would result in Northern Ireland staying in the European single market for goods but leaving the customs union, which would result in new customs checks.
Under the proposals, customs checks on goods traded between the UK and EU would be “decentralised”, with paperwork submitted electronically. The government has promised only a “very small number” of physical checks.
But food companies have warned they face huge extra costs due to the need for physical inspections at traders’ premises.
“The FDF applauds the government’s attempt to find a creative replacement for the backstop,” said FDF chief executive Ian Wright. “Unfortunately these proposals don’t work for shoppers and consumers. That’s because they ask food and drink businesses operating in Northern Ireland to pay - through new bureaucracy and costs - for the government’s inability to agree a comprehensive exit deal.
“As a consequence, shoppers in Northern Ireland will face higher prices and poorer choice. It is a fallacy to suggest there would be a small number of physical checks on food travelling across the Irish border. “Ireland is the UK food and drink industry’s largest export market. More than half of all poultry and fresh produce would require physical checks, with samples taken and sent to a laboratory. Only a deal which maintains frictionless trade across the north-south and east-west routes will protect choice and availability for UK shoppers and consumers.”
Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said the latest plan was “unworkable and unpalatable”.
“The Prime Minister’s long-awaited proposal is hugely disappointing. It is clear that he has not listened to the needs of the Northern Ireland business community or Northern Ireland households,” he said.
“This plan would effectively rip up the UK/EU joint report from December 2017 that promised no hard border and no associated checks and controls.
“Customs and alignment puts in place additional sets of borders, preventing Northern Ireland’s unfettered access to both the EU and Great Britain market, which has always been the aim for business.
“This will lead to complexity, delays, tariffs, VAT and cost rises that will make NI goods less competitive and squeeze our household budgets.
“The measures are predicated on intrusive surveillance which will put a burden on business and be disruptive for border communities. In short, these proposals are unworkable and unpalatable.”