The possibility of a fourth delay to the introduction of sanitary and phytosanitary controls for EU agrifood goods entering Britain has split opinion between traders and logistics operators.
Boris Johnson last week hinted that he would agree to delay the new rules for imports, reports the Guardian.
The new controls are currently scheduled to come in on 1 July, but the government has been reviewing a postponement amid fears that European supplies of some foods would collapse, increasing concerns about the cost of living crisis in the country.
Under the current border plan, new documentary and physical checks will be introduced from 1 July for:
- high-risk animal-by products
- regulated plants and plant products
- all meats and meat products
- high-risk foods not of animal origin
Checks for dairy products will come in on 1 September and for composite and fish goods the date is 1 November.
The government confirmed this timetable was “under careful review” amid concerns about the impact on household supplies.
“Now is not the time to be piling new costs on companies,” a colleague of the prime minister told the FT.
Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg and former Brexit minister Lord Frost have urged Johnson to extend the border checks “grace period”.
On a poll at a recent IOE&IT webinar, almost a third of traders said they were not yet prepared for the changes.
However, the delay is being hotly contested within government with industry executives reporting that both the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department for International Trade (DIT) initially resisted a fourth delay.
Business groups are also split, with UK port associations the British Ports Authority (BPA) and UK Major Ports Group (UKMPG) asking for clarity on the status of the new rules.
BPA CEO Richard Ballantyne said delay could see Border Control Posts “become the white elephants of Brexit”.
“Ports are recruiting staff to operate the facilities and therefore if there are going to be further delays, we need to know now,” he told the Loadstar.
A customs broker said that competitors in Europe who export to the UK will benefit.
EU suppliers can continue to trade without meeting new documentary requirements while UK firms sending goods the other way must “continue to face additional costs”, having been meeting post-Brexit documentary requirements since 1 January 2021.
Richard Harrow, CEO of the British Frozen Food Federation, told the Grocer its members had spent money preparing for new rules and been let down by the government’s lack of preparation.
“This constant moving the goalposts is putting needless pressure on food businesses that are already dealing with numerous crises in staffing, supply, inflation and energy costs,” he added.
British Poultry Council CEO Richard Griffiths said the “imbalanced controls” were “jeopardising British competitiveness”.
“The longer we wait for the introduction of full controls, the more entrenched problems become. Delaying them for a fourth time risks normalising unfair trade with our largest trading partner,” he said.
However, Lee Holdstock, trade relations manager at the Soil Association said, “a further postponement to port checks [would] provide the organic industry with more time to explore alternative trade routes”.
Nation Cymru reports the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) description of plans to delay border checks on EU imports as a “global disgrace”.
“EU countries got their act together and started implementing full checks on our exports from the UK on 1 January 2021,” said FUW president Glyn Roberts.
“Yet despite it being more than five years since Theresa May announced that the UK Government intended to pursue a hard Brexit policy, and that such border checks would be needed, the UK is still not ready,” he added.