Government announces new approach to SPS checks on agri-food imports

Thu 28 Apr 2022
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton, Will Barns-Graham, Rob Booth
Trade News

The UK government has confirmed it will not impose physical sanitary checks on agri-food (animals, animal products, plants and plant products) imports to Great Britain from the EU, due to have started on 1 July.

Full implementation of import controls on such goods from the EU is being pushed back to the end of 2023, according to a written government statement this morning (Thursday 28 April).

However, controls introduced in January 2021 on the highest risk imports of animals, animal products, plants and plant products will continue to apply alongside the customs controls which have already been introduced.

Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg framed the decision in the light of rising costs of living, the Ukraine war and the government’s reluctance to “impose new administrative burdens and risk disruption at ports and to supply chains at this point”.

New digital strategy

Instead, the government will use the time – approximately 20 months – to move towards digitising customs and sanitary checks on EU imports.

It will do this by “accelerating our transformative programme to digitise Britain’s borders, harnessing new technologies and data to reduce friction and costs for businesses and consumers,” Rees-Mogg said.

A new ‘Target Operating Model’ will be published in the Autumn to outline an “improved” regime of import checks at the EU-GB border, Rees-Mogg said.

Easier global goods movement

The government said this new approach will build on work already taking place as part of the 2025 Border Strategy, including on the UK Single Trade Window – a new digital initiative aimed at helping UK traders to more easily move goods globally.

What new approach means for…

Under the previous Border Operating Model schedule, physical checks on meat imports, plants and plant products were due to start on 1 July 2022 and on dairy on 1 September, with all remaining foods including fish and composite foods to be subject to checks from 1 November.


Staying in place:

  • Current controls (physical inspection and health certification) introduced in January 2021 on the highest risk categories of live animals and animal by-products not for human consumption will continue at Border Control Posts (BCP) on arrival in GB
  • Checks on high-priority plants and plant products will continue to take place ‘at destination’, rather than the planned 1 July move to a BCP on arrival in GB. These products will continue to need phytosanitary certification
  • DEFRA still requires pre-notification of SPS imports into the IPAFFS system – mandatory since January 2022

Change to 1 July schedule:

  • From 1 July there will be no requirement for:
  • Physical, documentary and identity checks on SPS imports from the EU at the GB border
  • ENS (safety and security) declarations
  • Prohibitions and restrictions on the import of chilled meats
  • Export Health Certificates for animal-origin products, or phytosanitary certificates for plants and plants products
Existing controls on exports of SPS goods from GB to the EU remain in place, having been introduced from 1 January 2021 when the Brexit withdrawal agreement was implemented.

Reaction to move

Director general of the Institute of Export & International Trade, Marco Forgione, said that “given the pressures on businesses and families at this time, we understand why the government has taken the step of moving the implementation of these checks into 2023"

He added: “What is important now is that government works speedily and transparently towards a settled state for the border, so that traders, who have had to cope with so much change, can have the certainty they need to plan for the long term. The Institute will continue to keep traders informed and up-to-date with the latest information and guidance.”

Port operators
The decision to move checks into 2023 risks “a row with ports which have spent millions building new facilities to inspect goods”, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group, told the Financial Times that port operators feared the facilities they had built “will be highly bespoke white elephants”.

Vets and farmers
The British Veterinary Association said the government’s move “flies in the face” of ministers’ commitment to preserve high levels of animal and human health in the UK at a time when diseases such as African swine fever had already had a catastrophic impact in parts of Europe.

James Russell, BVA Senior Vice President, said: “We urge the government to abandon these plans and close off the threat of causing significant damage to our food and farming industries.”

UK food and drink manufacturers
Dominic Goudie, head of international trade at the Food and Drink Federation, told the FT that the government needs to use the extra time to improve border processes.

“It’s critical that real changes are made to the way SPS certification is completed, rewarding trusted and high standard traders and making groupage far easier,” he said.

European Commission
The EC is giving a ‘pas de comment’ response to the UK government’s decision to move checks on EU imports into 2023: “This is a UK decision regarding its own border and therefore we have no comment to make,” an EC spokesperson told the FT.

Jacob Rees-Mogg
“The UK government is committed to ensuring the process for importing goods remains safe, secure and efficient and will harness innovative new technologies to streamline future processes and reduce frictions,” he said in a statement today.