Northern Ireland airports press for return of duty-free shopping for EU flights

George Best Belfast City Airport Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Northern Ireland’s airports have called for the return of duty-free shopping for flights between the region and the European Union.

Following the UK’s exit from the EU, from January 2021, duty-free shopping from airports in Great Britain was extended to include EU destinations.

George Best Belfast City Airport, Belfast International Airport and City of Derry Airport have made a joint plea to the UK Government and EU to extend this facility to Northern Ireland’s airports.

The anomaly came about amid discussions around the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

After the Windsor Framework was agreed between the UK and EU, aimed at tackling difficulties in the protocol, there have been calls for the return of duty-free facilities to Northern Ireland’s airports.

Bosses at the Belfast and Derry airports said duty-free sales account for more than £900 million in GDP to the UK economy, and non-aeronautical revenue can account for as much as 40% of the total revenue of an airport.

Further, they said, the inability of Northern Irish airports to sell duty-free goods to passengers travelling to the EU is “already resulting in an estimated £5 million loss each year”.

The airports also said restoring duty-free shops for EU flights would put them on an “equal footing to other airports in the UK, and deliver real economic benefits in terms of income generated by the airports”.

Nigel Keal, chairman of the UK Travel Retail Forum, who is co-ordinating the call to the UK Government and EU Commission, described the current situation as unfair.

“The return of duty-free post-Brexit has proven incredibly popular with consumers, with overseas retailers seeing significant increases in sales of duty-free goods to departing UK passengers,” he said.

“This has been a crucial financial support as the aviation and travel retail sectors recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Preventing airports and businesses in Northern Ireland from accessing this revenue stream is unfair. It puts them at a competitive disadvantage to the rest of the UK, and to the rest of Europe.

“On behalf of the industry, the travel retail industry is calling on the Westminster Government and the EU Commission to work together to level the playing field, and bring the rules on duty free at Northern Irish airports in line with rules at their British and European counterparts.”

The UK Treasury has been contacted for a response.

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