Retail bosses warn of 'perfect storm' ahead of new Brexit rules

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·2-min read
A line of lorries in Kent, Britain. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
A line of lorries in Kent, Britain. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

Retail bosses have warned the sector faces a “perfect storm” as new border regulations come into force in April with a raft of retailers still unable to serve customers in Northern Ireland.

Trade bodies and firms have called on the government to extend the current grace period amid continued uncertainty over the level of checks which will then be introduced.

It comes as a number of major UK retailers – including Halfords, John Lewis, Fortnum & Mason and AO – remain unable to deliver products to customers in Northern Ireland, more than six weeks after the Brexit deal was agreed.

Some retailers have said they are still developing and finalising IT systems which can deal with new trade requirements for Northern Ireland.

READ MORE: Wetherspoon boss calls for UK pubs to open at same time as non-essential shops

However, Aodhan Connolly, director for Northern Ireland at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), warned that the situation could become even more complicated in the coming months.

He told the Press Association that the IT systems being installed by retailers in order to fulfil restrictions put in place at the start of January, could need a complete overhaul just three months later.

“We just don’t know at all – it is entirely possible the systems they have put in place will not be what’s needed in April,” he said.

“We need time. In an ideal world we would have an extension and retailers would have more time to prepare for what needs to be a long-term sustainable solution that allows us to continue giving Northern Irish households choice and affordability.

“Retailers have been making the situation work because they are bending over backwards to make sure they can serve people here.

“But they know that change is coming in April, and then we could have a perfect storm.

“New rules on parcels and products of animal origin will come in as well pressure on the supply chain as hospitality will be reopening, schools will be reopening and we have the change of seasons for goods.”

READ MORE: European stocks surge on hopes of quicker economic recovery

Retailers have also expressed their frustration with government over the complexity of current regulations and the short-notice nature of its introduction.

One UK business, which asked not be named, criticised suggestions that there is nothing preventing the transport of parcels to Northern Ireland.

The BRC said that parcel regulations were only confirmed 18 hours before they came into force.

Another unnamed retailer accused the government of “moving the goalposts” just days before the UK officially left the EU.

Watch: What could scrapping EU labour laws mean for UK workers?