Brexit border checks delayed again

London, UK: The government has bowed to industry pressure and is delaying the implementation of new border controls set to start at the end of the month, according to the Financial Times.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that “challenges” within its systems for registering imports of food and animal products could inadvertently trigger unmanageable levels of inspections, overwhelming ports, According to the Financial Times.

The department has therefore decided to ‘switch off’ parts of its risk management system just two weeks before it is due to be rolled out. A presentation seen by the Financial Times did not make clear for how long border checks would be suspended, but indicated that the systems would be “progressively turned on” for different product groups.

Phil Pluck, chief executive, Cold Chain Federation, said: “We welcome Defra’s recent engagement with the Cold Chain Federation about BTOM’s implementation, and the recognition that a pragmatic approach is required. Food logistics businesses are trying to make final preparations for operating under the new system from 30 April, not only the changes that will be required to processes but also preparing for the additional costs, planning for mitigating anticipated disruption, and responding to the decisions of some EU-based customers to change or stop their exports to the UK. 

“The ongoing confusion about how and when new checks will be introduced makes these preparations incredibly challenging, but it is not too late for government to work with industry to improve the transition,” Pluck said.

“A phased approach is the right one but businesses urgently need clear information about what exactly these phases will include, and a definitive timeline. Giving businesses the certainty they need will help minimise the inevitable cost impacts of the new system for businesses and for consumers.”

The Cold Chain Federation had earlier warned Defra that the physical controls on EU goods starting on 30 April would “increase food prices and reduce consumer choice”. The federation told environment secretary Steve Barclay in a letter that he should delay the implementation of the new Border Target Operating Model for another six months to “address serious issues in consultation with the food logistics industry”. The Cold Chain Federation wants government to delay new border checks until October.

Along with other trade bodies, the Cold Chain Federation warned of disruption from “impractical” 24-hour pre-notification requirements for the groupage model, crucial for many small producers and retailers. The Department for Environment has previously said the new border controls were “being introduced progressively following extensive consultation with industry” although it has never set out what “progressively” means.

The UK farming and manufacturing sectors, whose closest trading partners are EU countries, are staunchly opposed to another delay to the controls. They argue it leaves them at a competitive disadvantage with their continental counterparts, which have faced no red tape when exporting to the UK for the past three years.

Martin McTague, national chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “New import charges on plant and food products are supposed to be introduced in less than two weeks, but the system is in complete disarray. The government has bypassed formal channels and left small firms out of the conversation. It’s left them unsure as to who they can trust. 

“Many have invested considerable time and money making sure they’re getting it right, but now they’re left scratching their heads at the conflicting messages coming out of Whitehall – will they or won’t they face these checks and have to start paying on April 30?

“Government has had years to get this right. Small firms deserve clarity, and they really do not have time to decode messy and unclear Whitehall messages that contradict each other.”