By James Davey
LONDON (Reuters) - Unilateral action by Britain to overrule post-Brexit rules agreed with the European Union for trade in Northern Ireland could harm all UK consumers if there was retaliatory action by the EU, Britain's retail industry warned on Wednesday.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at trade body the British Retail Consortium (BRC), told lawmakers the government needed to remember that 80% of the UK's food imports come from the EU.
"Our concerns would actually be about the wider impact potentially to all consumers in the UK if there was any kind of retaliatory action from the EU," Opie said in evidence to a committee in the upper house of parliament looking at the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
"By that I mean if it affected the actual (UK-EU) trade deal itself and we saw some consequences...which added costs to our food supply chain. Then that would have a serious impact potentially on consumers, not just in Northern Ireland but across the UK."
Earlier on Wednesday, Britain rejected EU proposals to resolve a standoff over the post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, saying it would not shy away from taking direct action in a move Ireland said would trigger legal action by Brussels.
Opie said the UK and EU governments needed to work together to find a practicable solution to trade under the Northern Ireland Protocol.
He said this meant giving the EU the controls they need to ensure there is no leakage of products into the single market, but also ensuring GB-NI trade is administered in a way which avoids unnecessary and unaffordable costs for retailers and their consumers in Northern Ireland.
Sacha Berendji, managing director of Marks & Spencer's 38-store business on the island of Ireland, told the lawmakers the retailer wanted "a stable environment reached through mutual agreement that created a predictable business environment."
But he warned that being forced by the EU to label all products was potentially as difficult as the current set up.
(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)