Marks & Spencer has held an emergency meeting with 40 of its top European food suppliers amid fears EU member states and the UK are not ready for the introduction of stringent border controls within a month, writesThis is Money.
New restrictions being introduced from 1 October are expected to disrupt imports from the EU – the source of a quarter of Britain's food, the report said.
Industry experts expect a succession of further controls to be brought in between then and January will cause chaos as food supplies are refused entry or delayed amid a tangle of bureaucracy with drivers being asked to supply up to 700 pages of documents at borders, according to This is Money.
The slow movement of goods has already seen Sainsbury's temporarily shore up gaps on shelves in its Northern Ireland shops with produce from local suppliers – including its retail rival Spar, it said.
But, according to This is Money, the nightmare of red tape bedding in the Northern Ireland Protocol, set up to ease trade between the British mainland and the province, could be dwarfed by the chaos of importing goods from the EU when the full force of restrictions is imposed by Brussels from next month.
The Mail on Sunday has learned the retail giant's bosses at the meeting on Friday warned suppliers from across the Continent that authorities in the UK and the EU are not prepared for the border rule changes, affecting the movement of fresh meat and fish.
Some national authorities in the EU have even failed to translate the necessary documents into local languages, they warned.
A letter has been circulated this weekend among M&S suppliers across Europe to warn that port facilities in Wales, Scotland and England will not be ready in time for physical checks on consignments scheduled to begin at the end of the year, the publication said.
In its letter to suppliers, M&S said 'high volume, slow, paper-based' documentation 'in short doesn't work'.
It added that 'it is clear from the information you have shared with us – as well as our own intelligence – that neither the UK Government or EU member state authorities are going to be ready' for the changes due to begin on 1 October or for the physical checks starting at the beginning of next year.
It blamed 'outdated and burdensome' border systems that threaten the flow of food from Europe unless the UK and the EU agree action.
M&S chairman Archie Norman has urged the EU and UK to work on closer 'common sense' reciprocity which means lowering the number of checks and stringent demands for minutely detailed documentation.
He also wants Defra and the EU to adopt a scheme of digital checks aimed at easing the burden on drivers who are currently required to carry large files of paperwork on each trip – sometimes only to be turned back because of errors in the fine detail.
Paolo Lasagni, managing director of M&S wine supplier Bosco Viticultori, said: 'What we are delivering now is exactly the same as before Brexit. It would be great if the EU and Britain could find a sort of simplification agreement.'