Sam McBride: The Irish Sea Frontier, My Kids’ Swing, and Why NI Supermarket Food Prices Are Soaring



Even buying a simple rubber mat under a swing is much more difficult due to the Irish Sea border, as Sam McBride found out.

Even buying a simple rubber mat under a swing is much more difficult due to the Irish Sea border, as Sam McBride found out.

However, within a few days, the beautiful grass I had just laid was plowed to destruction under the swing.

At this point you may think that I have lazily given up on any attempt at policy analysis and just recounting my free time. But support me.

I Google searched for a rubber mat with holes that grass could grow through and it came up with several websites selling a fairly simple standardized product. But from there, nothing was easy. The first website got me almost to the end of the carpet buying process before I said they don’t post in Northern Ireland. No problem. There are a lot more sellers.

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The second website said it would cost £ 28 to deliver a product for £ 22. Now I was getting frustrated.

The third website said delivery would be £ 27. More in hope than in expectation, I tried a fourth website. It made the others look cheap – shipping to NI was £ 30.

None of this was highlighted, which means the customer only realizes it late in the process – after checking each product’s specifications, entering a name, address, e-mail address – mail and a phone number.

I realized the problem was the Irish Sea border which has introduced such bureaucracy for UK businesses selling to Northern Ireland that a growing number of them either refuse to do so or charge heavily to pass on additional costs.

With Google defaulting to search for UK websites, I then changed to search for Republic of Ireland rugs. The first website cited a lot more for the article – £ 45 for half that price in England.

Finally, I found an Irish company that sold and delivered the rug for £ 25. He arrived in a few days and is under the swing, which makes me almost as happy as the kids.

It’s an example of the impact the Northern Ireland Protocol – which creates the border of the Irish Sea – has on the more mundane areas of life. I was particularly surprised because it is not a product of animal origin, it is not a plant, it is not banned in the EU and it is not perishable. This is the easiest part of the business between GB and NI, but it’s broken down.

The EU says this is due to the UK government’s failure to explain the protocol to UK companies and reassure them that they can continue to sell to NI. Without question, the Prime Minister’s lies clouded the situation.

But the government is investing hundreds of millions of pounds in processes and programs designed to smooth these transactions. Despite this, trade is severely disrupted.

Some people will say that none of it matters because I was able to get the item. As we adapt we may even give up trying to buy from UK websites and focus on Irish businesses.

Even if there was no politics involved in this, it would have practical implications. Constraining choice means that there is less competition, which drives up prices.

There are items that won’t be available in the much smaller Republic Market. Gardeners were among the first to realize this when the maritime boundary was erected.

We can buy from other EU countries, but being in the single market is not the only consideration in doing so. Language is an inevitable barrier. Emancipation is another – there are inevitable geographic consequences of our place on the fringes of the EU.

There are other issues. Purchasing a product online from B&Q means that it can be returned in person to a B&Q store in Northern Ireland. This is not possible with Bricomarché.

The protocol itself says that if it leads to “trade diversion” then the UK or the EU can take unilateral action to resolve this issue.

On second thought, it is surprising that the EU accepted such a low bar to trigger the protocol’s most extreme option, given that trade diversion was the inevitable consequence of the protocol.

Trade is like water: if there is an obstacle in one direction, it will flow elsewhere.

But the fact that the government knew it would happen, as its own documents at the time prove, is the biggest weakness in any attempt by Mr Johnson to make that argument.

As irritating as UK companies’ refusal to sell to NI is, this is in some ways the most obvious aspect of how the protocol harms consumers.

A quieter problem is emerging on the supermarket shelves – and it quietly hits us in the pocket every week as we shop for food.

After the Irish Sea border was erected in January, Sainsbury’s stopped stocking hundreds of products in its stores in Northern Ireland and replaced them with locally sourced alternatives, many of which are articles of the Henderson group bearing the mark of a rival supermarket, Spar.

This in itself involved an element of desperation. No supermarket likes to advertise a rival on their shelves.

But it wasn’t until last week that I noticed a trend involving several items where Sainsbury’s own brand and Spar or Henderson products were side by side. In each case, the Spar product was more expensive.

In most cases, this is not obvious, even to a careful buyer, because the old product is no longer in storage.

However, using the Sainsbury website, I introduced myself as a customer in Belfast and then as a customer in Great Britain to analyze what he charges buyers in Northern Ireland for virtually identical products in Britain.

I randomly selected 10 Spar food products for which I could easily find a Sainsbury’s own-brand equivalent (see end of this article for full list and prices).

Only 20% of new items were cheaper (and not by much); 80% of the items are now more expensive. One item – mild French brie – is three times more expensive for a Sainsbury’s customer in Belfast than for a Sainsbury’s customer in Edinburgh, Cardiff or London.

Overall, a person buying all ten products should spend 40% more than a person buying equivalent food in GB.

When asked why it had secretly increased its prices so substantially in Northern Ireland, Sainsbury’s said it was stocking “a very small number of Spar products” as an emergency measure and “prices were fluctuating all over the place. time for various reasons “.

It is difficult to separate the widespread economic impact of Brexit, the implications of the NI protocol, or the consequences of the pandemic. However, in this case the key distinction at the Irish Sea border – the widespread disruption of Brexit and the pandemic has not led to a spike in these prices in the UK.

Some people simplistically view the Irish Sea blockages as positive because local producers are getting more business. In some cases, it’s a mirage – Henderson Group is a local company, but the Brie still comes from France; it’s just that we pay three times as much to have him come by a less efficient route.

But even for local businesses that make their own products, while this aspect of the protocol clearly helps them, some of them find it difficult to import raw materials or equipment.

There is a more fundamental problem for consumers. This trade block is great for the local person selling their products to supermarkets, but if they were cheaper we probably would have bought them already. Now we no longer have that choice.

This week Secretary of State Brandon Lewis told MPs: ‘We have to get back to this situation where the products available in Northern Ireland – whether you are a business or a consumer – are the products you have always been. able to access freely and flexibly, and they are not unavailable … ”

Mr Lewis, who notoriously started the year off by saying there is no border with the Irish Sea, is now well aware of the complexity, scope and importance of trade lockdowns.

His statement this week can only be accurate if huge chunks of the protocol are dropped. Otherwise, false hopes are built.

Price comparison of ten random Spar products sold by Sainsbury’s and the equivalent Sainsbury’s branded products they replaced:

Fresh tomato and mascarpone sauce

Sainsbury’s: £ 1.25 / 350g jar

Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Pork Sausages: £ 6.88 / kg

Spinach and Ricotta Tortelloni

Sainsbury’s: £ 1.20 / 300ml jar

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