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Marks & Spencer shuts French stores in wake of Brexit disruption

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M&S France
M&S France

Marks & Spencer is to close 11 stores in France in the wake of post-Brexit disruption as bosses continue to slim down the retail chain.

The company has decided to end its presence in Paris, closing franchised food stores run with partner SFH by the end of the year.

However, nine stores in airports and stations operated by Lagardere Travel Retail will continue trading.

Paul Friston, of M&S, said it had a long history of serving customers in France and the decision had not been taken lightly. He sought to pin the blame on disruption after French officials rigorously enforced customs checks on M&S imports.

Mr Friston said: “As things stand today, the supply chain complexities in place following the UK’s exit from the European Union, now make it near impossible for us to serve fresh and chilled products to customers to the high standards they expect, resulting in an ongoing impact to the performance of our business."

Archie Norman, the chairman of M&S, has previously railed against the "pointless and byzantine” checks, arguing that the European Union’s custom arrangements were “totally unsuited and... never designed for a modern fresh food supply chain between closely intertwined trading partners”.

Although the new customs checks gave management a reason to shut the shops, analysts pointed out that the closures fit within a wider strategy of simplifying the chain and selling off prestige assets which generate relatively low returns.

One industry observer told the Telegraph earlier this week that M&S's main current objective is to drive growth online internationally, as the retail landscape continues to shift towards the internet and bricks-and-mortar stores become redundant.

Richard Lim, chief executive of Retail Economics, said that Brexit and Covid had emboldened management to make difficult decisions - some of which should have been taken before the pandemic hit.

It is the second time the retailer has retreated from the French market after an exit in 2001 following a major restructuring. It ventured back across the Channel a decade later.

M&S has already reconfigured its food business in the Czech Republic to remove all fresh and chilled products, while doubling its range of those which are frozen or shelf-stable.

Last year, M&S's international business incurred Brexit-related costs of £6.2m. The hit came as overseas sales fell 17.5pc to £789m, while total sales fell 11.9pc to £9.1bn for the year to April 3.

The retailer upgraded its profit outlook last month after a jump in demand for food in the UK and a surge in online clothes sales indicated that its latest turnaround plan was starting to deliver.

Shares in M&S fell 2pc to 182p in afternoon trading in London.

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