The UK Government announces a fifth delay in the post-Brexit food border control measures

Ministers admitting that the new EU import regime would increase prices, the UK government confirmed the fifth delay in the implementation of post-Brexit controls on food and other fresh products.

The Cabinet Office stated on Tuesday that government plans would likely have an effect on headline inflation. However, it claimed the impact was “expected” to be “minor”, and estimated the rate to increase by less than 0.2% over three years.

Last week, it was reported that Ministers had confirmed the decision to move the new paperwork requirements to the border from October back to January. The new physical checks of imports that were due to start in January will now begin in April.

The latest delay in introducing border controls followed Treasury concerns about the inflationary effect of the new regime and a demand by traders for additional time to prepare.

Originally, the controls on animal products and plant products after Brexit were supposed to begin in 2021. Since January 2021, British exports to the EU have been subject to full checks. This has angered UK farmers who feel they are competing on an unfair playing field with continental competitors.

Shane Brennan is the chief executive officer of Cold Chain Federation. The Cold Chain Federation represents a part of logistics that transports products like perishable foods and cut flowers. Brennan said the delay in the border was reasonable because it would increase the cost of goods.

He said that the more time they can be delayed, the better. “These Brexit checks are going to fuel food prices inflation every time they are introduced. The longer they’re put off, the better.” He said that the UK’s repeated delays of the deadline were a blow to its credibility.

Brennan warned that recent changes to the timeline “will not help with the already huge task of making EU businesses aware that Brexit, in reality, is still not “done” and that they must invest in the necessary processes to sell to UK clients from early next year”.

The Horticultural Trades Association, which represents the nursery and plant growing industries, has said that the revised plan to implement the new border control measures “does not go far enough” in addressing industry concerns.

The HTA warned in May that the new checks will add costs of more than £42mn per year to plant imports valued at over £750mn, with the majority of these imported via the EU.

Fran Barnes, HTA’s chief executive, said that although the new plan addressed some of sector’s concerns, it remained “a major concern” about the readiness of border officials to conduct physical import inspections.

William Bain was more positive and said that businesses will “be happy with this clarity” as they prepare to make the difficult transition to a digital trading system. He warned ministers to make sure the new system is operational within the timeframe they have set.

Nick Thomas-Symonds is Labour’s shadow secretary for international trade. He accused the government, citing the failure to implement new border controls after Brexit, of being in a “chaotic mess”. He added that it was unacceptable to delay major changes so close to the deadline for implementation.

According to the government, new border controls will use data and technology in order to reduce red tape for traders. The government said that, after listening to business concerns, the changes made to the previous proposals regarding the post-Brexit regime for border controls would save industry an estimated £520mn.