The Scottish Mail on Sunday

M&S’s sandwiches blocked from Paris stores... by France’s border crackdown


DRACONIAN border controls in France are making it ‘almost impossible’ to get popular M&S sandwiches into its Paris stores, the retail giant’s chairman has revealed.

Boss Archie Norman said M&S is the biggest retailer of sandwiches in the city but lorries are being turned away because of ‘byzantine’ regulation­s.

He said the blockages are putting M&S’s French business under threat, with only two out of every three products successful­ly arriving in its 19 stores – mostly in Paris and one in Lille.

Taken across the year, Norman estimated that 1,000 tons of food would be wasted because of EU border controls on the Continent and Ireland causing delays or lorries to be turned away if they do not have the correct documentat­ion.

Norman said most sandwiches have a shelf life of 48 hours and any delays mean sell-by dates quickly expire.

‘The French situation is very threatenin­g to our business,’ he told The Mail on Sunday from one of the company’s stores in Dublin.

‘We sell more sandwiches in Paris than anybody. It might sound absurd, the French eating British sandwiches, but they are very popular.

‘When you hear about these things, you think, “That’s just people whingeing. Surely, they can get their act together. Surely they just need the right documentat­ion.”

‘But, when you actually understand what’s happening… in one case a driver had a ham sandwich in his cabin. They said “That sandwich is not on the list” so they told him he couldn’t get through.’

He said in another case, a single page of a 720-page pack of documents – which must all be presented in physical form at the border by each lorry – was printed in the wrong colour font and the driver was turned away.

‘Why would you do that if you don’t have a completely bureaucrat­ic mindset or you’re not just being deliberate­ly obstructiv­e?’ Norman said.

He said the company had initially put delays in January and February down to ‘teething problems’. But he added: ‘Sadly that hasn’t improved.’

The company has called an emergency meeting with its 700 British and European food suppliers to discuss radical measures, likely to include shifting some production out of the UK, Norman said.

The M&S chairman has already written to Brexit Minister Lord Frost to highlight the myriad complexiti­es of the situation. It is understood the letter has since been circulated ‘at a very senior level’ within the European Commission.

He said M&S business in France, which is limited to food stores, was now ‘very, very challenged’ while the situation in Ireland will worsen on October 1 unless a plan by Lord Frost to divert disaster succeeds.

‘In October, the Northern Ireland Protocol comes into operation so what applies now in the Republic, will also apply in Northern Ireland.

When that happens it will be very obvious to all the citizens of Northern Ireland that they are no longer part of the UK when it comes to the food supply chain,’ said Norman.

‘I’m not being critical of the [UK] Government. I’m being very critical of the Irish Government and the stance the EU is taking. I think the British Government is trying to do their best. We have the safest food supply chain in the world.

‘The purposes of the customs union is to prevent product that doesn’t comply with EU standards coming in – and there is no risk. This is purely border bureaucrac­y.

‘It’s what happens when you ask border officials to implement a set of rules when they are probably not experts in the subject of food safety so they just go by the letter of the rules.’

‘Business in France now very, very challenged’

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