Post-Brexit Import Checks Are Set To Be Delayed For The Fourth Time
The UK is edging closer towards announcing another delay to checks on goods imported from the European Union as the government looks at ways of abating the ongoing cost of living crisis.
An announcement is expected in the coming weeks, several officials have told PoliticsHome. It would be the fourth time that ministers have postponed the introduction of this wave of post-Brexit paperwork, unlike the EU which brought them in with immediate effect when the Brexit transition period ended on 31 December 2020.
Last month the Financial Times reported that Jacob Rees Mogg, the Brexit opportunities minister, was leading Cabinet calls for these checks to be postponed, and that senior Downing Street figures were "sympathetic" to the idea. Checks are currently scheduled to be phased in from 1st July.
The argument to push the deadline beyond July is now gathering momentum across Whitehall, despite resistance from The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
PoliticsHome also understands that there is growing support for a postponement lasting significantly longer than six months, the length of a previous day, with figures like Rees Mogg and Lord Frost, the former Brexit Secretary, pushing for them to be shelved indefinitely while the government works on its plan to digitise the border.
The red tape in question is regarded as the most burdensome post-Brexit paperwork for businesses that import from the EU. Animal and plant products entering the UK from the continent - which covers a wide range of food - face physical checks and certification, putting supply chains at risk of disruption and delay.
There is concern that European suppliers, particularly small-to-medium sized companies and those that send goods in smaller quantities, will struggle with the paperwork and decide to ditch the UK market altogether, resulting in reduced supermarket choice and higher prices for British consumers.
The growing feeling within government is that it would be unwise to go ahead with this phase of post-Brexit paperwork while the country is already dealing with the cost of living crisis, with households currently grappling with soaring energy bills and widespread inflation.
A Downing Street spokesperson on Tuesday confirmed weekend reports that Boris Johnson had asked senior members of the Cabinet to come up with new policies designed to tackle the rising cost of living.
"Cost of living is one of the single biggest issues facing us globally and as a country that needs to be addressed," they said today. "So it's right that we look at all possible options before setting out any potential changes".
Earlier this month, however, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) warned that further delay to EU import checks would expose the UK to the risk of importing diseases like African swine fever.
Not all affected trade bodies support the idea, either. Groups like Scotland Food and Drink argue that it would result in EU exporters to the UK continuing to enjoy minimised friction, while UK exporters to the EU face the full plethora of post-Brexit paperwork.
A government spokesperson said: "We are keeping this issue under careful review, given ongoing supply chain disruption – including as a result of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine – and wider cost of living pressures.
"It is precisely because of Brexit that we’re able to set an import controls regime which is best suited to our own needs."
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