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Government Delays Post-Brexit Import Checks Until Late 2023

Jacob Rees Mogg

4 min read

The government has announced that it is no longer going ahead with plans to introduce physical checks on fresh food imported from the European Union this Summer. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for Brexit opportunities, said on Thursday it would be wrong to go ahead with this post-Brexit paperwork while supply chains were already facing pressure from rising energy prices and the effects of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

This wave of red tape was meant to come into effect on 1st July. However, they have now been scrapped altogether, with ministers planning to introduce an "improved" way of handling EU imports in late 2023. The government wants to eliminate the vast majority of physical checks by developing what they call a digitised border.

PoliticsHome reported earlier this month that Rees-Mogg won a long-running argument within Cabinet over whether to go ahead with the paperwork amid the cost of living crisis. This afternoon he visited Eurotunnel, which connects the Kent coast with Calais in France, and which lorries use to move goods to and from the continent. 

Rees-Mogg said: "Today’s decision will allow British businesses to focus on their recovery from the pandemic, navigate global supply chain issues and ensure that new costs are not passed on to consumers.

“It’s vital that we have the right import controls regime in place, so we’ll now be working with industry to review these remaining controls so that they best suit the UK’s own interests.

“We want the process for importing goods from the EU to be safe, secure and efficient and we want to harness innovative new technologies to streamline processes and reduce frictions. It’s precisely because of Brexit that we’re able to build this UK-focussed system”.

Ministers had been warned by various industry groups that this tranche of paperwork, which the government originally planned to implement at the border last year, would only exacerbate the cost of living crisis facing households by making many everyday food products more expensive.

Animal and plant products entering from the continent - which covers a wide range of food sold in supermarkets - would be subject to physical checks and certification that was not required when the UK was an EU member, putting supply chains at risk of disruption and delay.

Research published this week by UK In A Changing Europe think tank found that new trade barriers created by Brexit had already caused food prices to rise by 6%.

Dominic Goudie, Head of International Trade at the Food & Drink Fedetation, said the move brought "welcome clarity" because supply chains were already facing "significant" disruption due to long-lasting effects of the Covid pandemic and Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

William Bain, Head of Trade Policy at the British Chamber of Commerce, said it was a "sensible" move. “With food prices rising, the extra costs from new checks on meat, fish, dairy and other products would fuel inflation – hitting the pockets of both business and the British public," he said.

The government has been accused, however, of putting British businesses at a disavantage compared with their EU counterparts by deciding against bringing in the checks.

Unlike the UK, Brussels introduced post-Brexit paperwork with immediate effect. This means that while European traders are set to continue enjoying low-friction access to the UK market, UK businesses sending goods to the continent face the full panoply of checks and controls.

There is growing evidence showing this array of new paperwork resulted in a sharp decline in UK exports to the EU. The London School of Economics said this week that UK-EU buyer-seller relationships fell by a third after post-Brexit trading arrangements came into effect early last year.

Scotland Food and Drink's James Withers told PoliticsHome the announcement will come as a "another in a long line of slaps to the face" for UK exporters.  

"Brexit has brought nothing but cost, complexity and pain for food and drink businesses trying to sell to our biggest market. All the while our EU competitors continue to have a completely free ride selling to us. It is just an huge own goal and the promise to control our borders has turned to dust yet again".

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