Northern Ireland ports to resume checks after security fears, FT
- Port staff in Northern Ireland charged with implementing contentious new post-Brexit customs arrangements will return to work on Wednesday — a week after they were temporarily withdrawn because of security fears. The move comes 24 hours before the UK and the EU are due to hold a crunch meeting in London to discuss differences over the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, with the UK government demanding an “urgent reset” to the agreement which creates a trade border down the Irish Sea.
- Staff conducting port checks were temporarily withdrawn on February 2 after local reports of sectarian threats against workers implementing the new trade border, which has enraged some parts of the Northern Irish unionist community because it divides the UK’s internal market. However, the region’s agriculture department said the decision to begin a phased restart of physical inspections at ports had been taken following a “full threat assessment” by the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
- Under the terms of the protocol all goods flowing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland must follow EU customs rules, including expensive and time-consuming export health certificates (EHCs) as well as completing customs import formalities.
- The UK government demanded a significant shift in the implementation of the protocol in a letter to Brussels last week, asking that grace periods to enable businesses to adapt be extended until January 2023. However, senior EU diplomats said that Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice-president in charge of overseeing the protocol’s implementation, can expect to be given only limited room for manoeuvre at a meeting with EU ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday morning.
- EU officials said the UK demands were “too much, too soon”, warning that the British government was in danger of politicising the protocol. However, UK officials have warned that the EU was showing a “lack of desire to make the protocol work”, which “did not bode well” for the future of the deal.
JD Sports eyes European warehouse to counter post-Brexit tariffs, Reuters
- Britain’s biggest sportswear retailer JD Sports Fashion is likely to build a distribution centre within the European Union and create around 1,000 jobs there to avoid paying post-Brexit tariffs, its chairman said on Tuesday. Several UK retailers, including Marks & Spencer and ASOS, have highlighted issues re-exporting goods to EU countries since the end of the Brexit transition period on Dec. 31, with tariffs imposed on items not made in the UK.
- “We (Britain) said we had a free trade arrangement, that’s really not the case,” JD Sports’ executive chairman, Peter Cowgill, told BBC radio. “If you source from the Far East for instance and bring in to the UK and (then) ship to stores (in Europe) then the tariffs apply,” he said. That meant JD would need to locate an additional distribution centre in Europe to complement its existing complex in Rochdale, northern England. “With it goes the employment that was previously in the UK,” Cowgill said, noting it would need to employ about 1,000 people in Europe.
- The chairman said a combination of post-Brexit tariffs, new systems, additional paperwork and red tape was costing the group “double digit” millions of pounds. He said Brexit had so far been “considerably” worse than he had expected.
British meat processors set up shop in EU as Brexit hammers exports – BMPA, Reuters
- British meat processors are registering businesses in the European Union in order to bypass post-Brexit export delays, with flows just 50% of normal levels and costs soaring, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said on Tuesday.
- The move means Britain is losing jobs, the industry group warned, as delays caused by customs checks at the border have all but halted small lorry loads of mixed meat products heading to the EU and Northern Ireland. This has in turn prompted companies to register businesses in the EU with a view to setting up processing facilities that will allow them to trade with European customers and avoid exports delays and soaring costs. About 40% of British meat trade with the EU is sent in mixed or “grouped” loads.
- “It’s now not viable to send a single lorry load of mixed products to different EU or Northern Irish customers to stock their shelves for the following few days,” said Nick Allen, chief executive of the BMPA. “The new system is adding an average of 30 hours into the (export) process; and costs are now around 60% higher than last year,” he added, citing additional customs and veterinary charges, and soaring haulage and insurance costs.
- Under the Brexit deal agreed last December, British trade with the EU remains free of tariffs and quotas on goods, but it is subject to third country customs checks. Britain, by contrast, is phasing in checks on EU goods over a six-month period. The BMPA said the only viable export option is for companies to send large lorry loads of a single meat product, but this is only possible for big businesses, with some smaller ones having completely halted exports. “There is not a complete solution that we in the UK can enact unilaterally. It’s going to require the UK and the EU to re-negotiate and re-design the system from top to bottom,” said Allen.