Marks & Spencer chair Archie Norman has issued a fresh warning to the government amid fears that EU proposals on the transit of goods to Northern Ireland will increase friction and cost for businesses.

Norman, Archie

M&S chair Archie Norman

In a letter to Brexit minister David Frost, Norman wrote that the proposals “could result in worsening friction and cost and a high level of ambiguity and scope for dispute”.

The UK government is attempting to change its original Brexit deal, which left Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods.

This followed a move to prevent a trade border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but effectively resulted in a border in the Irish Sea between the mainland of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Proposals from Brussels to update the protocol promise to halve customs paperwork and reduce checks on meat, dairy and food coming to Northern Ireland from mainland Britain by 80%.

The EU would then request the sharing of live data on trade and the ability to monitor supply chains and labelling to ensure British products do not enter the Republic of Ireland – and therefore the EU single market – via Northern Ireland.

But Norman said labelling on the 90 million products M&S ships to Northern Ireland every year would cost the retailer £9m annually. He added that the new proposals could cost retailers more to implement than the existing full EU custom controls.

Norman also highlighted that, under the new proposals, vets would need to oversee certification of 95% of the food being sent to Northern Ireland.

“This adds cost and a minimum of four hours per day into the supply chain, which – with the other delays – means goods will take 1.8 days (45 hours) more to get to store than prior to the UK’s departure from the European Union,” he said.

Norman suggested that the best solution would be a time-limited equivalence arrangement, with limited checks and implementation of technology.

In its interim results published last week, M&S stated that the retailer now faced £13m in costs related to “ongoing EU border issues”.

Frost said that the UK could reach an agreement to improve trade arrangements for Northern Ireland by Christmas.

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