Food checks at UK borders post-Brexit delayed again due to inflation fears

UK ministers will announce another delay in the post-Brexit controls on animal products and plant products that come from the EU. This is due to fears of inflation fuelled by additional bureaucracy.

It is also to give companies more time to implement new arrangements. The new import regime was due to begin in Britain’s port cities on October 1.

The announcement comes just before the monetary committee of the Bank of England meets on Thursday to discuss persistently high inflation.

The introduction of a post Brexit border control regime on goods entering the UK via the EU has been repeatedly delayed. British exports are already subjected to full inspection.

The Ministers announced in April a new “border operating model” that would be implemented from October 31, with the full regime being in place by 2024.

Insiders in the government have stated that although the final details of border plan will be published “very shortly”, its implementation would be delayed.

One government insider who was briefed about the plan said, “The main reason for this is to reduce inflation. That’s why the delay will occur.” “There will also be extra costs at the border.”

The new regime will start in the year ahead, even though the ministers have not signed off on a new timetable.

Some said that businesses should be given enough time to adjust to the new rules. One government official said that the effort made by businesses would not be wasted. “This will occur, but it will take a little longer.”

The spokesperson for the government confirmed that ministers are carefully considering feedback from “stakeholders” to ensure they have enough time to prepare. However, she added: “The Border Target Operating Model” will be published soon.

Imports of products with a “medium risk” were to be certified in October. Physical checks would begin in January 2024, and safety and security declarations on EU imports in October 2024.

When asked if the government was still committed to this timeline, the spokesperson replied that the new system – which is simpler than the original proposal made last year – would be “introduced gradually”.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, and Rishi Sunak the Prime Minister, both prioritised tackling inflation and were willing to challenge Brexiter orthodoxy – such as “taking back control” of borders, and diverging away from EU rules – to reduce business costs.

After businesses complained that ministers were burdening companies with red tape, the government on Tuesday dropped plans to create a post Brexit UK equivalent of the EU “CE” quality mark.

Sunak said to broadcaster LBC that the rate of inflation is not as rapid as he’d like. However, he claimed it would “completely transform” the public once it returns to a lower level. Food prices have been rising especially quickly.

In an documentt sent to the industry in April last year, the government stated — in bold — that it had a “firm intention” of implementing the first phase in October after four delays. Originally, the first phase of border controls was supposed to start in July 2021.

The food industry warned in June last year that the proposed flat-rate inspection fees of up to £43 per consignment of EU food would increase food prices. According to the government, the additional costs associated with EU controls are estimated at £420mn annually.

According to the proposed controls, which were to be implemented on October 31, EU food exporters to the UK would require “export certificates” that cost several hundred euros and required a physical signature by a veterinarian.

Shane Brennan is the leader of the Cold Chain Federation lobby. He said that any decision to defer the October requirements would be the “right thing” to do, given the inflationary pressures in the EU and the lack awareness of the new controls.

In a survey conducted by the Cold Chain Federation in July, 40% of its members’ clients and suppliers based in Europe were not aware of the new requirements.

The British Chambers of Commerce said that delaying the October controls is “sensible”, given the current inflation rate, but cautioned that any plan for introducing new paperwork and physical border checks simultaneously next year will require the port infrastructure to be prepared.

Nick von Westenholz is the director of trade for the National Farmers Union. He acknowledged that the government must protect consumers against price increases, but said yet another delay will exasperate farmers who are faced with barriers on their exports that are not reciprocated by imports from the EU.

He said: “We need to implement proportionate and light-touch checks that will keep importer costs down while also managing biosecurity risk.” “The government must set out an immediate and clear timetable for the implementation of a new import regime to ensure that UK producers and growers are on a level playing ground.”