Brexit: Lorry drivers ‘need 700 pages of documents partly written in Latin’ to export UK goods to EU

·3-min read

Brexit red tape is far worse for British exports to the EU than to Northern Ireland, a store chief is warning – with some information demanded in Latin and a particular typeface.

Archie Norman, the chair of Marks and Spencer, revealed the mountain of bureaucracy that is making international trade impossible for small producers, leading many to give up entirely.

The UK is preparing legislation to shred the Northern Ireland Protocol, arguing talks with the EU have failed to make the progress necessary to remove costly red tape.

But Mr Norman said those exports from Britain escaped the quagmire currently, because of temporary grace periods, saying: “At the moment we’re pretty much okay in Northern Ireland.”

However, he warned it requires 700 pages of documentation to send to “a wagon” to the Republic of Ireland – taking eight hours, adding 30 per cent to driver time and costing the company £30m.

“We had our business exporting into France, we’ve had to close that because of customs rules,” he told BBC Radio 4.

“We have a big business in the Republic of Ireland which we very much want to continue, but it’s proving very tough to make it work.”

Mr Norman said firms face the same plight if talks with Brussels about the Protocol fail, saying: “The EU proposal is that we should have to do the same background checks to go into Northern Ireland.”

London and Brussels are at loggerheads over those talks, both sides accusing the other of refusing to compromise to reach a deal to prevent the worst of the extra bureaucracy.

Instead, Mr Johnson is pressing ahead with unilateral action to override the Protocol he signed and hailed as “fantastic” in 2019 – almost certainly in breach of international law.

In Brussels on Monday, the prime minister came as close has he ever has to accepting responsibility for the crisis and the risk of a trade war with the UK’s largest market.

Asked if it is “a direct consequence of the deal you signed,” the prime minister replied: “Yes absolutely.”

Mr Norman was asked if the UK could reach a wider “shorter term or time limited deal” with the EU to ease the wider trading crisis since the UK left the EU.

But he told the BBC: “I think that train has probably left the station and, right now, the priority is to solve the problem in Northern Ireland.”

The government has declined to seek to fill in gaps in the Brexit trade deal – despite a renewed Bank of England warning that it will swipe 3.25 per cent from GDP over the medium term.

Mr Norman added: “At the moment, in Northern Ireland, we’ve got what’s called an easement so the controls aren’t the same.

“But the EU are looking to impose comparable controls for Northern Ireland and, were that to happen, it would mean that quite a lot of products from the UK simply wouldn’t get to Northern Ireland.”

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