New Trade Check Means Old Brexiter Promises Were False

New Brexit checks on EU goods coming into the UK are due soon – but why does it matter?

Even though we left the EU in January 2020, the government has ignored specific elements of the exit agreement for years.

This means imported food will become more expensive and there may be shortages, contrary to the initial promise of Brexit, while importers may face delays.

However, after five separate attempts to delay the law, the government must now make the overhaul a reality.

What are the new checks?

From 31 January 2024, fresh produce will undergo new border checks under the new Border Target Operating Model.

It will be introduced in three stages.

Firstly – from Wednesday – EU exports of animal and plant products will have to present an Export Health Certificate to UK authorities.

This means importers must notify the authorities the day before they arrive in the UK.

Currently, the EU does not need to notify the UK government before bringing in meat and milk, so supplies can arrive quickly.

Then physical inspection of shipments will begin on April 30, and starting October 31, shipments must pass a safety and security certificate.

What is the impact of this inspection?

Prices of imported food (especially meat and milk) will rise.

The Director General of the Institute of Export and International Trade – Marco Forgione – told Reuters that large companies should be able to manage it, but small companies may struggle to cope with the changes.

He added that smaller companies could then stop trading with the UK, leading to “price pressure and possible shortages”.

Some EU exporters are not yet ready for these new regulations and may not want to pay the additional costs of trade checks.

Each delivery can cost between £20 and £43, and there are usually several deliveries on each truck.

The estimated total cost of these costs is estimated at £330 million per year – and any increase in costs means food prices will rise, possibly fueling food inflation.

A display of fresh fruit and vegetables outside a shop on Edgware Road on December 6, 2023 in London, England.A display of fresh fruit and vegetables outside a shop on Edgware Road on December 6, 2023 in London, England.

Mike Kemp via Getty Images

The EU actually imposed similar restrictions on UK (GB) goods entering the bloc in January 2021.

This triggered major delays at ports and some British exporters even stopped selling to the EU temporarily.

William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce warned that delays would be felt most acutely from April.

The UK imports up to 70% of its fresh food from the EU in winter, dropping to around 30% in the warmer months, with as many as 1,000 trucks arriving every day at the ports.

Therefore, a delay could mean the shelf life of fresh food is reduced by a fifth.

The SPS Certification working group, which represents 30 trade bodies and covers £100 billion of the UK’s food supply, described the new rules as “impossible”.

In a letter to Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Steve Barclay, experts said this would have a serious impact on “the supply of fresh perishable and non-perishable food/ingredients arriving from the EU in a timely manner to the UK”.

Veterinarians in the EU also have to approve the product – and there are concerns that there may not be enough to meet demand.

Confusion about how it works

According to industry experts, transparency from the government is also lacking.

Bain told Reuters: “Will the government enforce the rules by preventing material that does not have an electronic EHC from entering GB borders? Or do they let things in and then implement them through contact with the companies involved afterwards?

“The government isn’t telling us what they’re going to do.”

Others worry the UK doesn’t have the capacity.

Horticultural Trades Association chairman James Barnes said there was a risk that the UK’s new frontier infrastructure, processes and IT systems would not be ready for April.

The Dutch Floricultural Products Wholesalers Association also called for a delay to UK border checks until 2025, but this was ignored.

The start date is just 13 weeks away, but the government has not yet published details of the opening hours of its border posts.

Is this what we were promised?

As told by BBC Newsnight’s Victoria Derbyshire, leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg promised cheaper food, and former PM Boris Johnson promised there would be no extra trade checks – but “both were wrong”.

Rees-Mogg even called implementing such checks a “self-defeating act” in 2022 when he becomes Brexit opportunities minister.

Why are they being introduced now?

The government postponed it to avoid port disruptions and prevent the cost of living crisis from getting worse.

But now it is being introduced due to biological hazards, warning of the impact of disease outbreaks such as foot and mouth disease, according to Newsnight coverage.

The checks will also help maintain competitiveness between the UK and its EU partners, given the bloc launched the checks not long after the UK actually left the bloc.

How has the government responded?

The government claims everything will be ready by April and there will be no delays.

According to The Guardian, a government spokesperson said: “We remain committed to delivering the most advanced border in the world.

“An operating model that targets borders is key to making this happen, protecting UK biosecurity from potentially harmful pests and diseases, and maintaining confidence in our exports.

“We are working extensively with traders to ensure these new controls and requirements are clear and not onerous – which is why low-risk products will not require additional certification or checks, while medium-risk products will undergo reduced checks, minimizing the risk of delays.

“We will continue to work closely with businesses across the UK as these controls are implemented.”

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