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Why is Brexit impacting deliveries to Ireland, and what else is being held up?

How exactly is Brexit affecting food supply chains and trade routes – and will things settle down soon?

Image: RollingNews.ie

NOBODY SAID IT would be easy, but one week into the new post-Brexit customs and trade arrangements between the European Union and Britain and already, issues are beginning to crop up.

We haven’t seen anything like the chaos that some people were expecting this week.

But a couple of developments have raised red flags.

Earlier today, Stena Line said that it cancelled twelve ferries between Ireland and Britain due to sail before 12 January.

Citing a combination of Covid-related public health restrictions and new Brexit requirements, the Irish ferry operator said it had observed a decline in both passenger and freight volumes since 1 January.

So what else happened this week and can we expect things to get worse as the new year begins in earnest?

Port traffic and delays

So far, we haven’t had too much of an issue with Brexit-related delays and traffic build-up at Irish ports.

In fact, earlier this week, Dublin Port confirmed that only an “extremely small” number of Irish trucks travelling to the UK have been rejected for having incorrect documentation.

On the other side of the equation, there were only some minor delays for hauliers who did not complete the correct paperwork upon arrival in Ireland from Holyhead.

Revenue gave a stern warning that many businesses “were not as prepared as they thought or significantly underestimated what was involved in being Brexit ready”.

Generally, the first week in January can be a quiet time of the year; New Years Day is said to be the second quietest day of trading of the year. This coupled with pre-Brexit stockpiling by businesses means the ports haven’t been quite as busy as they might be next week or later in the year.

At a Brexit briefing in December, Eddie Burke from the Department of Transport was asked how long it could take for traders to get used to new post-Brexit checks and systems. His answer was that we just don’t know.

But the potential for sudden delays is ever-present, given the new processes and checks that have to be done on goods, particularly on goods entering Ireland from the UK.
“Customs and other regulatory checks take time — and some take longer amounts of time than others,” as Revenue Commissioner Gerry Harrahill explained last week.

These aren’t new processes — Irish authorities have been carrying them out on goods coming from ‘third countries’ for years.

But they’ve never been applied to UK goods until now, meaning the overall volume of imports that have to be checked increased basically overnight on 1 January.

Agricultural and food products travelling from the UK into Ireland will have to be checked to ensure they meet European safety standards.

Plant and animal products coming from Britain will have to travel with a health certificate signed by a UK vet and official identity seal.

Farm equipment will have to be checked to make sure it’s not contaminated with soil.

If they don’t have their ducks in a row upon arrival, the consignments can be rejected or unloaded and the individual boxes checked.

So it’s been a quiet week but as Tom Talbot, head of Revenue’s operations at Dublin Port, said this week, “There will be delays as traffic builds but we are confident we can minimise the disruption.”

Post and deliveries

One of the most immediately tangible consequences of Brexit is the extra red tape and costs associated with sending items by post to and from Britain.

Although Brexit hasn’t affected the flow of letters between the two islands or between the North and south of Ireland, Irish VAT now applies on goods from British retailers that cost more than €22.

Additional Customs documentation is also required for parcels sent from the UK to Ireland. Customs fees also apply to some purchases above €150.

Before Christmas, An Post confirmed that customers will have to deal with these extra charges at checkout or, alternatively, through An Post’s website or in a post office.

But extra red tape is already causing trouble for some.

Courier company DPD Britain announced today that it will freeze its road delivery services from the UK to Europe, including Ireland, until next Wednesday, 13 January to review its processes.

In a statement, the parcel delivery company said, “It has now become evident that we have an increased burden with the new, more complex processes, and additional customs data we require from you for your parcels destined to Europe. This has placed extra pressure on our turnaround and transit times.

“We are seeing up to 20% of parcels having incorrect or incomplete data attached, these will have to be returned to you so that the required data can be provided.

“In addition to this we are seeing delays and congestion at UK ports and more rigid requirements for channel crossings.”

But An Post has confirmed that it is trading “fully and smoothly” with almost all of the UK online retailers who deliver to Ireland.

“While some delays should be expected due to UK retailers bedding in their new data requirements prior to shipping,  the majority of items dispatched through the An Post digital systems are released for immediate delivery on arrival into Ireland,” it said.

Food supplies

A number of pictures shared this week of empty shelves in Irish Marks & Spencer stores had prompted concerns that post-Brexit changes would limit food supplies, at least temporarily.

But the problem seems only to affect M&S at the moment; other supermarkets may have stockpiled items, as pre-31 December queues at the Port of Dover seem to suggest.

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A spokesperson for Tesco Ireland said “there is no need for customers to change their shopping habits” at the moment.

“We have seen a slight increase in demand for products over recent days due to Covid restrictions but overall availability is good with plenty of stock to go round,” he said.

Marks & Spencer, however, admitted that swapping to a new post-Brexit system meant that it was taking “a little longer” for products to reach its stores, and it is working to resolve the issue.

There are other issues agreed under the EU-UK trade deal that may cause different problems, as CEO of Marks & Spencer Steve Rowe explained today:

“Percy Pig is actually manufactured in Germany. If it comes to the UK and we then send it to Ireland, in theory it would have some tax on it.”

This means that Percy Pig packets may no longer be available in Ireland, or be more expensive to buy here.

The Newsletter revealed today that in Northern Ireland, Marks & Spencer is temporarily withdrawing hundreds of items from sale as a result of the new customs arrangement under the Irish Protocol.

The limitations on travel from the UK because of the new Covid-19 variant has also had an effect on imports into Ireland, it is understood.

Aidan Flynn, General Manager of the Freight Transport Association of Ireland said that it has been more difficult to get goods into the country rather than out.

The problems are mainly arising, Flynn says, from the new ‘safety and security’ requirements, which document which goods are on what trailer. This information is mandatory to get a pre-boarding number that allows trucks to board ferries.

The problem is further compounded by a communications issue – a different part of the business might be asked for additional information, meaning hauliers might not know why they’re not being let through ports.

He said that it didn’t help that a political deal was done on 24 December, a few days before the new systems came online at 11pm on 31 December.

“There was no transition, they didn’t provide anybody with time. The new system came online at 11pm on 31 December, and it wasn’t available for testing beforehand – so the learning is in real-time.”

He said that the new system was a shock” and that it will take time to come to terms with that: “It’s as close to a hard Brexit as anyone would have thought”.

Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond said that Brexit preparation was about being prepared for what you can control, but “we can’t control what happens in Great Britain”.

Richmond says the Government must begin to look at alternative routes to Europe, noting that the first four new ferry departures from Rosslare to Dunkirk had sold out.

About the author:

Ian Curran and Gráinne Ní Aodha

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