How four vets & hundreds of forms are needed to get each batch of Marks & Spencer cheese and ham sandwiches into Ireland

FOUR vets and hundreds of forms must be filled out to get each batch of Marks & Spencer cheese and ham sandwiches into Ireland.

The complexity lays bare the farce of the Brexit red tape that supermarkets face to get food on the shelves.

EU red tape has hit Marks & Spencer cheese and ham sandwiches sent to Ireland
For a single batch of the famous sarnies, four vets are needed and hundreds of forms must be filled out[/caption]

Most meats, dairy products and packaged foods such as ready meals are affected — and the situation is only going to get worse when Northern Ireland is subjected to these rules in October.

At best it means fewer product lines — for example no luxury burgers — but at worst it will mean empty shelves over there.

The checks for goods coming into the Republic of Ireland, as part of the EU, started in January. Because of this, M&S had to cut the 49 ready-made sandwiches it used to sell in Ireland to 21.

Many products destined for Northern Ireland, despite moving within the UK, will face the same bureaucracy from September 30 when a grace period ends.

That is because the Northern Ireland protocol puts the border between the UK and Ireland in the Irish Sea, rather than between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The experience on the ground is far worse than the ‘theory’ of the rules.

Archie Norman

All supermarkets are affected but M&S has stuck its head above the parapet, with chairman Archie Norman writing to Brexit minister Lord Frost this week.

He said: “The experience on the ground is far worse than the ‘theory’ of the rules.

“It is not the overall purposes of the Customs Union that are the problem.

“It is the pointless and byzantine way in which the regime is enforced that is so business destructive.”

M&S completes 40,000 pages of paperwork a week

M&S must complete 40,000 pages of paperwork a week to get goods into Ireland as a result of the new Brexit rules.

It will treble to 120,000 pages from October when rules also apply to Northern Ireland. Before January, there were minimal forms.

It is not as simple as switching suppliers to those based in Ireland, where there are no border checks.

Food factories making sandwiches and ready meals are huge and complex, and suppliers in Ireland do not have the capacity.

There is a similar situation with meat. With a cheese and ham sandwich, each product has to be individually checked by different vets.

That means one vet each is needed for the ham, cheese, cream cheese and mayonnaise — four in total.

All manner of forms have to be filled in too, and one minor mistake, such as blue ink instead of black, leads to the shipment being rejected.

Independent vets have to conduct checks on every product of animal origin on every truck.

Archie Norman

Five vets are needed to bring in a typical delivery including other sandwiches, ready meals, burgers, cheeses and so on. This is because UK exports to the EU of animal and plant products must come with health certificates issued by a registered vet.

Mr Norman also wrote: “Independent vets have to conduct checks on every product of animal origin on every truck.

“In most cases veterinary inspections are already required in the supplying factories.”

Before shipping, the supplier inputs product information on each order placed by the retailer. This takes two to six hours per order. At the depot, vets perform sanitary checks on every product of animal origin.

When full checks are enforced for Northern Ireland, M&S will have 13 vets spending six hours on each truck.

At the port, the UK does border checks and customs paperwork on the EU’s behalf for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain. This takes three to 24 hours. Finally, 24 to 48 hours later than it did before Brexit, the product arrives in stores.

The supermarket must complete 40,000 pages of paperwork a week to get goods into Ireland[/caption]
As the complexity of Brexit red tape is laid bare, supermarkets risk empty shelves[/caption]


  • Tuesday AM: The honey roast ham and Cheddar cheese sandwich is freshly made at the Northampton site. It takes the supplier three hours to manually enter all trace information, ranging from individual ingredients and their origins to when it was made, into a centralised database.
  • Tuesday 5pm: The sandwich is moved to the M&S export site at Motherwell, North Lanarkshire. In the past it would go straight to Dublin in less than 12 hours. Now it has to be separated for checks by vet team.
  • Wednesday 3am: For six hours, a variety of M&S staff, vets and agents fill in paperwork including customs forms, itemised vehicle manifests and health certificates for each type of meat product. Each lorry has an average of 650 products on it and needs 720 pieces of paper to get to Dublin. Before Brexit, it was only four forms.
  • Wednesday 9am: Vet checks were not required before December 31, but now they must go through all the animal products of the sandwich, verifying data separately for ham, cheese, mayo and soft cream cheese.
  • Wednesday 2pm: Customs forms are manually completed and uploaded line by line into a variety of UK and EU systems.
  • Wednesday 11pm: Sandwich is stopped for routine check at border control post, en route to Dublin, causing a three-hour delay.
  • Thursday 6am: Sandwich arrives at the depot in Ireland but has missed the morning delivery into stores.
  • Thursday 3pm: Arrived in Grafton Street store but only has one day to sell before going out of date.
  • Friday morning: Will be reduced in price during the day or go to a charity redistribution partner in the evening if not sold.

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