UK 'not ready'
Checks on imports from EU face further delays
Britain not prepared for imports
Post-Brexit checks on food and farming imports to England, Scotland and Wales have been delayed further because of Covid disruption and pressure on global supply chains.
Measures which were expected to come in next month will now be introduced in January and July next year.
Some sources in the logistics and customs sector have said the government’s infrastructure was not ready to conduct the full checks by 1 October.
However, the postponement has angered those who have spent thousands of pounds preparing for the changeover, claiming the delay rewards those that have done nothing.
The EU has implemented full checks on UK goods since the start of this year, but checks on goods arriving in the UK were delayed and, in March, the government announced a timetable to get changes for the food and agriculture sectors in place by 1 October.
Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt has told MPs another postponement is now needed, blaming the pandemic and the pressures placed on the logistics sector, but making no mention of new Brexit rules.
“The government’s own preparations, in terms of systems, infrastructure and resourcing, remain on track to meet that timetable,” she said, in a written Commons statement.
“However, the pandemic has had longer-lasting impacts on businesses, both in the UK and in the European Union, than many observers expected in March.
“There are also pressures on global supply chains, caused by a wide range of factors including the pandemic and the increased costs of global freight transport.”
Ms Mordaunt announced that the requirement to pre-notify British officials about agricultural and food imports from the EU would now start on 1 January next year, rather than on 1 October this year.
The requirement for EU firms to get export health certificates before sending live animals and animal products to Britain would be put back to 1 July, she said.
Business groups gave a mixed response to the delay. William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Border arrangements for inbound goods to Great Britain need to be well planned, certain, efficient and deliverable to minimise supply chain disruption.
“The announcement of this delay is sensible given the ongoing issues with ensuring trader readiness, the need to build more border control posts and the skills shortages crisis. Food checks would come in at the time of year with the lowest imports from the EU.”
Sean McGuire, CBI Europe director, said: “Additional time could help to relieve pressure on supply chains ahead of the traditionally busy Christmas period for retailers, especially given current headwinds.
“But the impact will be fleeting unless that extra time delivers progress on the challenges firms are facing.
“That includes both sides giving fresh consideration to business’ suggestion for a bespoke veterinary agreement, which could avoid the majority of checks and reflect the unique nature of trade between the UK and the EU.
“And where supply bottlenecks are caused by labour shortages, the UK should use the immigration levers within its gift to alleviate short-term pressures.”
Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright was dismayed by the timing of the announcement.
Ian Wright: rug pulled (pic: Terry Murden)
“Businesses have invested very significant time and money in preparing for the new import regime on 1 October 2021. Now, with just 17 days to go, the rug has been pulled,” he said.
“This move penalises those who followed Government advice and rewards those who ignored it. As recently as yesterday, officials assured us that import checks would be implemented as planned.
“The repeated failure to implement full UK border controls on EU imports since 1 January 2021 undermines trust and confidence among businesses.
“Worse, it actually helps the UK’s competitors. The asymmetric nature of border controls facing exports and imports distorts the market and places many UK producers at a competitive disadvantage with EU producers.”
Labour’s Cabinet Office spokesman Baroness Chapman said: “This announcement shows what we have all known for months – that the government do not have a workable, sustainable answer to tackling delays and red tape at the border.”