Archie Norman, the chairman of Marks & Spencer, this week issued a cri de coeur on behalf of British retailers who export products from the mainland to Ireland.
Because the Northern Ireland protocol in the Brexit agreement places the border between the UK and Ireland, in effect in the Irish Sea, businesses such as his face a nightmare of red tape when they make landfall in Northern Ireland.
‘It’s not the rules of the Customs Union that are the problem, it is the Byzantine and pointless and pettifogging enforcement,’ he argued. No less than 40 per cent of M&S’s consignments to Ireland face a delay of between six and 48 hours.
Here the Mail describes a disastrous delivery journey of a consignment of chicken tikka masala — M&S’s bestselling ready meal in Ireland — that took place earlier this yearInsurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
And matters are soon to get worse. After September 30, goods destined for Northern Ireland — an internal movement of food within the UK — will suffer the same checks and bureaucracy as exports to the Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU.
So how hard is it for M&S to move goods from Britain to its 17 stores in Eire?
Here the Mail describes a disastrous delivery journey of a consignment of chicken tikka masala — M&S’s bestselling ready meal in Ireland — that took place earlier this year.
It was designed to travel from a factory in Wales to one of M&S’s stores in Dublin. But the trip turned into a 660-mile odyssey and, while this is in many ways a worst-case scenario, it illustrates the potential problems that lie in wait for our food exporters to Ireland.RF Brookes factory, Rogerstone, Wales
One of Britain’s biggest ready-meal factories is situated on the edge of Newport. RF Brookes is owned by 2 Sisters, a company which started as a chicken processor — cutting and packaging breasts and legs — but now has factories across the UK making processed meals, including pizzas, spring rolls and curries for most leading supermarkets.
The chicken tikka masala, a ‘medium-spiced curry with pieces of chargrilled chicken in a creamy masala sauce’, comes off the production line at 1pm. It has a best-before date in eight days’ time.
The P&O European Highlander ferry arriving into Cairnryan, Stranraer on route from Larne in Northern Ireland
The M&S ordering system has marked it for the Republic of Ireland, specifically the Grafton Street store in Dublin, to be sold for €6.20.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Pre-Brexit, the curry had little paperwork. It left the factory with a Vehicle Summary Sheet — a six-page document detailing the load’s contents, the temperature of the refrigerated lorry and its departure time.
Since January 1, 2021, however, RF Brookes employees have had to enter voluminous details of the curry into an M&S database.
This is used to create forms and includes the Latin name of the animal that provided the meat, the code for the breed of chicken, and the date of the pasteurisation of the cream in the curry sauce.
There are 32 fields to fill in for each product and it can take three hours to upload the information.
The ready meal leaves the factory in Wales and heads up the M6 towards Scotland in a refrigerated 2 Sisters lorry, along with other products made in the same factory. Before the new rules were introduced it would have stopped at an M&S warehouse at Crewe to then take a ferry to Dublin at Holyhead.
Now, it heads 370 miles to Motherwell, Scotland, for processing.
M&S Motherwell Export Centre
Since January 1, 2021, however, RF Brookes employees have had to enter voluminous details of the curry into an M&S database
The lorry heads down the A77 to Cairnryan, a small port on Scotland’s west coast, six miles north of Stranraer. (Pictured, M&S Depot, Motherwell, Scotland)
The lorry arrives at Motherwell Export Centre, a warehouse converted in November 2020 prior to the Brexit deal being signed. The 60,000 sq ft warehouse, operated by M&S’s logistics partner, Gist, is designed for all edible goods going to Ireland. POAO products — products of animal origin — are unloaded into ‘Vets’ Corner’.
Baked beans wouldn’t need to go into Vets’ Corner, but the chicken tikka masala, including poultry, yoghurt, cream and butter, does.
At 6am, Gist workers start sorting the paperwork for products in Vets’ Corner going to the Republic. This includes export documents and vehicle-loading lists — each detailing every item’s product code.
The Export Centre also employs five veterinarians, who check any product of animal origin — even though it has been days since the poultry, yoghurt, cream and butter in the curry has been in contact with a living animal. They then fill in a European Health Certificate, a long and complex form.
If a product has elements that come from two different countries — say a pizza topped with Italian mozzarella and British pork — it will require two long forms.
Some of it is standard health and safety: ensuring any meat does not pose a BSE risk to consumers. Some is bureaucratic box-filling, including listing the chicken under the code PFG, ‘domestic poultry and farmed feathered game’.
This process of form filling — for a lorry-load of food destined for Dublin — takes six hours and can entail 720 pages, especially if the lorry includes fish products.
These need, in addition to the European Health Certificate, supplier catch certificates, detailing where the fish was caught, the vessel involved, its skipper’s name and the boat’s insurance details.
Mr Norman, says: ‘It is all on paper, which is absurd in this age.’
The forms have been completed. There are so many sheets of paper that a box file is needed.
A Gist worker then uploads the information in the forms into two separate computer systems — HMRC and its EU equivalent — to ensure the products can be exported to the EU and to check whether any of the products carry a tariff. Luckily, a chicken curry can enter the EU