As Border Operating Model deadlines approach, UK government considers grace periods

Mon 8 Mar 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

The concept of grace periods being unilaterally applied by the UK on GB-NI trade is now on the table for EU to GB trade.

Fears of food shortages and the effects of more checks on trade have prompted the decision, the Observer reports

Scaled back checks

Brexit minister Lord Frost is considering “lighter touch” Border Operating Model controls on imports from 1 April, the paper claims, “scaling back plans for full customs checks, including physical inspections, due to begin on 1 July”.

Under current plans, new border controls are soon set to become reality for GB and EU trade.

  • From 1 April, all items of animal origin, plus some plants and plant products, will require full documentation and veterinary certificates to be sold in the UK
  • From 1 July, all companies importing into the UK will be required to fill out full customs declarations and goods could be subject to checks at new UK customs centres.

Just a week after unilaterally introducing a “new operational plan” for border checks for GB:NI trade, Downing Street confirmed that Frost had ordered a review of the timetable on GB:EU processes “to ensure that we are not imposing unnecessary burdens on business” but added that “no decisions have been made”.

Frost will put the plans before fellow cabinet ministers this week.  

One senior industry figure said the worry was that neither European exporters, nor their customers in the UK are prepared. “There is not the infrastructure in place yet or the number of customs officials necessary to carry all this out. We have already seen exports badly affected. The next nightmare could be imports.”

A survey last week by the Food and Drink Federation of its members that send goods to the EU found a 45% drop in exports since 1 January.

Border posts 'will not be ready for July'

According to the Guardian, border check posts (BCPs) will not be ready for the July deadline, while inland customs facilities being built are also behind schedule.  

More than 30 designated BCPs are due to handle checks on goods, plants and animals entering from the EU. 

However, construction has only just begun at ports including Portsmouth, Purfleet on Thames in Essex, and Killingholme on the Humber.

The location of some inland border checkpoints – such as Holyhead on Anglesey and in south-west Wales to serve the ports of Fishguard and Pembroke – has not been announced yet. A Kent site for goods arriving at Dover is described as a “muddy field”.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) is warning that livestock trades could grind to a halt, because no Channel port is planning facilities to check incoming farm animals.

Funding complications

Port operators say the delay is partly the result of complications with the government’s funding process. As reported in Export.org, a £200m Port Infrastructure Fund was oversubscribed, leading the government to cap grants provided to Portsmouth and 40 other successful applicants.

“It’s obvious not all of the facilities are going to be ready…” said Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the trade body British Ports Association (BPA). “Our frustration with government is they are not willing to share what the plan B is.” 

Southampton, Plymouth, Hull and Immingham, all operated by Associated British Ports (ABP), are expected to be ready on time.

'Ditch the ill will'

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Lord Frost called on the EU to “shake off any remaining ill will” over the UK’s decision to leave. He said that EU threats to block vaccines coming into GB from the EU had “significantly undermined” post-Brexit measures in Northern Ireland, but insisted the delayed border checks was a “temporary” measure.