Marks & Spencer chairman and former Tory MP Archie Norman has accused the EU of making “highly bureaucratic” and “pointless” proposals over the Northern Ireland protocol.
The businessman claimed requirements on the movement of goods to the Republic of Ireland are “very, very onerous” and cost “about £30 million” to follow.
Speaking to BBC R4’s Today programme, he said the bloc wanted “comparable controls” to be imposed on the flow of products from the mainland to Northern Ireland, which would dramatically hinder trade.
“At the moment, wagons arriving in the Republic of Ireland have to carry 700 pages of documentation. It takes about eight hours to prepare the documentation. Some of the descriptors, particularly of animal products, have to be in Latin. It has to be in a certain typeface. We employ 13 vets in Motherwell to prepare it all,” he said.
Mr Norman claimed the introduction of similar requirements for goods moving to Northern Ireland would stop trade altogether in some instances, as small businesses would buckle under the costs of the red tape.
“Incidentally that means that every piece of butter in a sandwich has to have an EU vet certificate, so it’s highly bureaucratic and pretty pointless,” he said.
But his complaints were questioned by Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard, who said sandwiches for all 38 M&S stores were produced in Newry in Northern Ireland.
Mr Hazzard wrote on Twitter: “Inconceivable that the M&S chief didn’t know this!?! Perhaps Protocol realities are an inconvenient nuisance for this ex-Tory MP?”
Mr Norman said the purpose of customs rules was to protect consumers from “unsafe food arriving from some far-flung country” but that UK food standards are “equivalent or higher” than the EU’s.
Mr Norman defended the UK Government’s approach to the protocol as the “triumph of common sense over rules-based mentality”.
“What the British Government is proposing at the moment seems to me a triumph of common sense over rules-based mentality and will make sure at a time of inflation that the Northern Irish people can get the fresh food that they’re used to and entitled to,” he said.
Mr Norman became chairman of M&S in 2017 after serving as a Conservative MP in Tunbridge Wells and as shadow environment secretary in 2000.
The Foreign Secretary will on Tuesday declare her intention to bring forward legislation which rips up parts of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal on Northern Ireland.
It is understood that Liz Truss will make the announcement in a statement to the Commons following a full Cabinet meeting, in an attempt to restore power-sharing in the region.
The row over the Northern Ireland protocol has created an impasse in efforts to form a new Executive in Stormont, with the Democratic Unionist Party refusing to join an administration unless its concerns over the arrangements are addressed.
The move to rewrite parts of the deal could risk a trade war with the European Union but the Foreign Office has insisted it “isn’t about picking a fight with the EU” and that Ms Truss’s priority is to uphold the Good Friday Agreement.
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