UK won’t ‘turn on” post-Brexit border checks of EU goods because of fear of delays

Because of “significant disruption”, the UK government told its port authorities it would not “turn on critical health and security checks for EU imports once post-Brexit borders controls start this month.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs outlined a strategy to reduce the number of lorry queues at ports. They revealed that if new border measures are implemented according to plan, there could be major delays.

The government announced new border checks on food and plant products last year and promised to “phase in” the checks. Trade groups warned that this would hurt small businesses, and increase the cost of food.

The presentation made last week, less than a fortnight prior to the physical inspections, revealed that the new border system will not be ready.

To avoid the problem, Government announced that it would “set the initial rate of checks to zero for all commodities groups”. This is essentially turning off large portions of the risk-management system in what they called a phased implementation approach.

The implementation of the new border control has been delayed five times since the year 2021. This has allowed EU exporters to send animal and plant products to the UK unchecked.

In its presentation to port health authorities, Defra acknowledged that its systems for registering the imports of animal and food products still had “challenges”. These could unintentionally trigger an unmanageable level of inspections that overwhelm ports.

It said that if all commodity code were turned on simultaneously, there was a risk of significant disruptions on the first day.

The presentation did indicate that systems would “gradually be turned on” to different product groups, but it didn’t specify for how long the border checks would be suspended.

Business organisations have called on the government to delay the implementation of the new border until October at least.

William Bain is the head of the British Chambers of Commerce’s trade policy. He said: “Any confusion or uncertainty surrounding the introduction of border checks and new costs is bad for business.”

“The business community needs Defra to communicate its plans in a clear and concise manner. If there are any changes, they must know immediately.”

Defra has made it clear that their plan is not to be shared with the businesses. Businesses will only be charged a maximum £145 per consignment for goods imported from the EU after April 30.

According to a source familiar with the meeting, a Defra official warned against revealing the information to the media. He said that one of the main goals was to avoid negative stories.

Defra has said that the main customs system would continue to operate, but only if the products are of the highest risk, like meat products from certain nations, and based on the volume at the port.

Bristol, for instance, received only 17 notifications of risk in a period of three weeks this year. Dover, on the other hand, received 12,573 in the same timeframe. This meant that the customs checks in Bristol could be activated in full, whereas those in Dover were “limited” in order to avoid delays.

It is frustrating that the Cold Chain Federation (a lobby group representing the perishables trade) has ignored repeated warnings regarding the readiness of critical infrastructure. In less than two weeks, businesses will be forced to navigate a clearly broken system.

He added, “The government should delay full implementation until October, and work with the food logistic industry to create a system that works, and reduces confusion, disruption and costs.”

Defra stated that it was confident in its ability to conduct the expected checks. As we have said in the past, we are prioritising the goods that pose the greatest biosecurity risks as we work towards full check rates and high compliance levels.

The statement continued: “A pragmatic approach in introducing border checks minimizes disruptions, protects biosecurity and is beneficial to everyone – especially traders.”