PROTOCOL RAID SPARKS ANGER

    A BANGOR shop owner has been left furious after £200 of his stock was removed from his shelves – because the English firm that sold it didn’t fill in NI Protocol paperwork correctly.

    According to Gareth McBride, of Whole Foods, officials raided his store and took the imported Asian products, claiming that the paperwork problem meant there was no proof they would be safe to sell.

    That’s even though he pointed out that they hadn’t been imported directly from abroad, but bought from a British wholesaler – meaning that they would have been checked and approved for sale when they first arrived in the UK through ports in England. “I bought goods from Great Britain that were checked by one arm of the British government but have now been seized by another arm of the British government,” he says. “Tell me how that makes sense.”

    Gareth was working behind the counter of Whole Foods, near the centre of Bangor last Friday morning, when council officials came into his shop, demanding he hand over a recent delivery of stock. He says that Ards and North Down Council’s enforcement team had been tasked to raid the store by officials in Larne Port, who had found that his supply of South Asian and Indian food products didn’t have the correct paperwork.

    Says Gareth: “I explained that I’d bought these from a wholesaler in Great Britain, so they’d already been through full checks at ports in England when they were originally imported and there couldn’t be any issues with them. “It didn’t make any difference. They said I could either voluntarily surrender the goods or they’d come back with a legal order to seize them, so I told them to take what they were after.” Adding that his supplier is a well-known and trusted name with decades of experience in the industry, Gareth says that the stock would have been safe and sellable under the UK’s usual food safety standards. “I’m a small business, it’s too expensive for me to import directly from South Asia or India; I go through wholesalers in the UK or Ireland,” he says. “They are a safe supplier, that’s the surprise of it. The goods were checked on arrival at ports in Britain, but to come to Northern Ireland there has to be all these extra checks and forms to be filled in. “My supplier was a multimillion-pound company, if they get caught by red tape I hate to think what chance the rest of us would have. “It wouldn’t surprise me if they just stop selling to Northern Ireland.

    Around 70% of my suppliers already have, under the Protocol it’s just not worth the hassle trying to deliver to somewhere that’s a comparatively small market.” Gareth says that the NI Protocol’s conditions mean that small businesses in his industry are facing either massively increased costs or a mountain of complex paperwork – and sometimes both. “I’m now classed as an export business by GB suppliers, which in some cases means they won’t offer credit; others won’t deal with Northern Ireland at all now,” he states. “I’ve had to stop selling frozen fish, as the Protocol means I would have to rent a refrigerated lorry just to make one single small delivery to my store. “As a small business, you rely on wholesalers delivering to you; the only other way to get the goods would be for me to hire a courier, which isn’t economical. “It’s all the fault of the Protocol and the crazy amount of new paperwork. It used to be that you got invoiced by a firm in England, you paid the invoice and that was it; now there’s so much else that has to be taken care of. “The Protocol has been a disaster for small businesses in Northern Ireland. I’m at the end of my tether, and I know I’m not the only one in Bangor that’s hurting.”

    one in Bangor that’s hurting.”