Led by the UK Travel Retail Forum, the three major airports in Northern Ireland have called on the UK Government and the European Commission to return duty free for flights from Northern Ireland to the EU.

The UK formally left the EU at the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. From January 2021 duty free shopping from GB airports was extended to include EU destinations. This facility was not extended to Northern Ireland’s airports. The reason given at the time was the on-going discussion with the EU on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. With the agreement of the Windsor Framework, Belfast International, Belfast City and the City of Derry believe it is time to correct this anomaly and return duty free facilities to Northern Ireland’s airports.

Duty free sales account for over £900m in GDP to the UK economy, supporting local economies and jobs, and generating significant non-aeronautical revenue for airports. Non-aeronautical revenue can account for as much as 40 % of the total revenue of an airport, and smaller, regional airports can be particularly sensitive to it, as it supports reinvestment, capital expenditure and permits new route development (in turn generating further aeronautical revenue).

This is costing millions of pounds in lost sales and is impacting employment and investment opportunities.

Graham Keddie, Belfast International Airport

The inability of Northern Irish airports to sell duty free to passengers travelling to either GB or the EU is already resulting in an estimated £5m loss each year to regional Gross Value Added. Given the Northern Irish economy is comparatively small in size, this loss continues to be substantial.

The issue is also having a knock-on effect on Northern Ireland’s growing food and drink sector, as the absence of duty-free facilities closes potential markets for these goods. Enabling duty free would showcase these products to a new international customer base, and deliver real economic growth beyond the airports

The three airports, and the wider travel retail industry, are calling on the UK Government and the EU Commission to use the mechanisms under the TCA (UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement) and the Windsor Framework to find a solution to this problem.

“It is critical that the UK Government and EU move quickly to restore balance, equality and fairness for the people of Northern Ireland as we are currently left with the worst of both worlds.

"We have raised this matter directly with HM Treasury, the Cabinet Office and the Northern Ireland Office as well as our local political parties. It is simply indefensible that the millions of passengers travelling through our airports are placed at such a significant disadvantage to those travelling through GB or RoI airports. This is costing millions of pounds in lost sales and is impacting employment and investment opportunities. We urge the UK Government and EU to sort this issue out as a matter of urgency as there can be no credible or justifiable reason for not doing so,” said Graham Keddie, managing director at Belfast International Airport.

Image: Belfast City Airport