Border controls eased

Plea for exporters to share benefits given to importers

Some ports were not ready for the change (pic: Dale Staton)

Food and drink groups have called for exporters to be given the same support that has been agreed to help imports from the EU.

UK ministers agreed to suspend checks on EU goods coming into Britain for six months to give businesses more time to prepare for the changes to regulations.

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation and James Withers CEO of Scotland Food and Drink said exporters should benefit from the same concession.

“Government must now use this time to do everything it can to support UK food and drink exporters who continue to face huge difficulties moving goods into the EU,” said Mr Wright.

Mr Withers added: “The empathy shown to importers for a difficult year has been sorely lacking for our export businesses, many of whom feel they were thrown to the wolves 10 weeks ago.

“There is now a great irony that Brexit currently means huge costs and non-tariff barriers for our businesses trying to sell to the EU, whilst our EU counterparts continue to have a free ride selling to us.”

Earlier, it was announced that Border officials will not ask EU businesses for the first wave of health and customs paperwork until 1 October. The Border control posts for carrying out physical checks on animal and plants will not be introduced until January.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said: “We have listened to businesses who have made a strong case that they need more time to prepare.

“We have given strong weight to the disruption which has been caused, and is still being caused, by Covid.”

Cabinet Office Minister Lord Frost added that it would help allow companies to focus on “getting back on their feet” after the pandemic.

The original April deadline for firms to submit additional paperwork for food products was set to coincide with the re-opening of Britain’s economy from lockdown.

There were doubts in the freight industry about Britain’s readiness to handle inspections of animal products in time for the 1 July deadline, though the postponement decision may impact on ports such as Tilbury and Humber that have laid concrete and put up steel frames, said Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group.

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the latest delays were a positive step.  

“Ministers are right to delay the implementation of import checks that would slow trade even further – but this can only be a temporary solution. 

“What businesses want to see is an end to the damaging political rhetoric from both sides, and a focus on improving border flow for the long term. The UK and the EU must get back around the table and thrash out the remaining structural problems in the Trade and Co-operation Agreement. 

“For some UK firms, the continued problems with EU trade are threatening their very existence.  It should not be the case that companies simply have to give up on importing from, or exporting to, the market next door.”   

Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “With many of the key Border Control Posts currently little more than a hole in the ground, the six month easement comes in the nick of time.

“Until the infrastructure is in place, with IT systems ready and established processes for checks and paperwork, it would be foolhardy to introduce full requirements for EHC documentation, pre-notification of imports, physical checks and more.

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“We welcome the Government’s decision, which will ultimately reduce the impact on consumers from the 1 April, who might otherwise have seen empty shelves for some products.

“Government must not rest on its laurels, and the next six months must be used to establish and communicate the new systems with UK retailers and EU suppliers.”

The move follows a decision to delay a separate set of border checks on GB goods arriving in Northern Ireland.

Those inspections were agreed as part of the UK’s EU withdrawal deal, in a bid to avoid border posts between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

The UK has pushed back full checks on goods arriving in NI from Great Britain, after disruption to some food supplies and online deliveries.

Bureaucracy criticised

Earlier, the SNP criticised the UK government after separate research by the industry group Make UK revealed that three-quarters of UK firms are struggling with Brexit bureaucracy and delays. 

In a survey by of more than 200 leading industrial companies, 74% said they are facing Brexit-related delays and over half (51%) have said this has led to increased costs. One in five is losing potential business. 

The SNP’s Shadow International Trade spokesperson Drew Hendry said:  “It is businesses that are being forced to pay the heavy price for the Tories’ bad Brexit deal.”

Stephen Phipson, chief executive of Make UK, said the training of customs officials and assistance with customs paperwork needed to be accelerated.

Data from some EU countries has shown a fall in goods trade with Britain since the break on 1 January although economists say some of the decline probably reflects a rush to pile up stocks and get ahead of the expected disruption.

Delays in shipping have also been attributed to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which has disrupted sea freight.

See also: Global CEOs see UK as more attractive after Brexit

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