Two thirds of GB retailers plan to stop selling to Northern Ireland by April because of Irish Sea border, survey finds

A survey of 1,000 GB retailers has found that almost two thirds of them plan to stop selling to Northern Ireland within two months because of the Irish Sea border.

Wednesday, 24th February 2021, 7:01 am
Cheese is one of the food products which is now most bureaucratic and expensive to move from GB to NI. Photo: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty

As UK and EU politicians meet today to discuss the new trade frontier, the company behind the research said that many firms had “reached the precipice and are now having to make a final decision as to whether trading into Northern Ireland is feasible since the creation of the Irish Sea Border post Brexit”.

The survey was not carried out by a polling company but by iakoe, an e-commerce marketing firm with offices in Edinburgh and Belfast, and was conducted from January 4 until last week.

That could mean that some of those who responded to the questions at the start of January, when disruption and confusion was at its worst, may have changed their minds.

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However, iakoe told the News Letter that it had spoken to 70% of those surveyed since the research ended to confirm that their response still stood.

The results follow widespread anecdotal evidence of GB companies which previously traded with Northern Ireland now refusing to sell across the Irish Sea.

Indeed, an increasing number of companies now find that they are banned from selling their products to Northern Ireland – regardless of what people are prepared to pay for the item.

Garden centres are banned from selling anything which contains British soil – even if it is only a few particles on a bare root tree – and from June many British meat products such as sausages and pies will be banned from Northern Ireland.

The survey also found that 42% of firms had seen orders cancelled after being forced to increase their prices to Northern Irish customers to cover new administration and customs charges as a result of the Irish Sea border.

However, 68% of respondents expressed optimism that the worst of the new border was now past.

Today the UK-EU Joint Committee which oversees the Northern Ireland Protocol will meet to discuss how it is working. An agenda for the meeting, which was published yesterday by the government, gives little away about what exactly will be discussed.

The Irish Sea border problem has been exacerbated for some businesses by the pandemic and an astronomical increase in the cost of shipping goods or parts from the far east.

Helen White, co-founder of lighting brand houseof said: “Dealing with additional red tape for us is a real challenge at the moment as we’re already experiencing a sixfold increase in the cost of shipping containers from China. To begin adding further complexities to the situation by burdening increased shipping and administrative costs to Northern Ireland may simply not be viable until the Irish Sea border situation is resolved”.

Kirsty McManus, of the Institute of Directors Northern Ireland, said: “It is clear that Northern Ireland could have a competitive advantage via our dual access to Great Britain and the EU Single Market but this is being overshadowed by elements of the protocol between GB and NI which is causing friction.”

DUP-run quango promotes protocol’s benefits

A quango overseen by DUP minister Diane Dodds is advertising the advantages of the Irish Sea border which her party says it wants to destroy.

In a paid article placed on the Forbes India website, Invest NI said: “The recent trade agreement between the UK and EU has positioned Northern Ireland as a unique global business destination, with simultaneous open trade access to both the UK and the EU.”

The article said that “as things stand, Northern Ireland consumers and producers will retain custom-free access to the European Union market. This will enhance the appeal of NI as an attractive investment outpost for those who seek to leverage this access.”

It added that “a period of adjustment to the new regulatory framework may pose challenging for some businesses due to the transition”.

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