Brexit checks on fresh farm produce coming to the UK from the EU have once again been delayed for a fifth time.
This decision to suspend the enforcement of controls, which have been implemented for British exports to the EU since January 2021, is expected to be announced imminently, according to the Financial Times.
The aim of this delay is to provide the UK government and EU exporters with additional time to adequately prepare for the necessary checks. However, this move has raised concerns among domestic UK food producers who argue that it gives an unfair advantage to their continental rivals, who do not have to undergo similar checks when exporting fresh food to the bloc.
There are fears that the introduction of additional red tape could drive up the cost of food imports for consumers and contribute to further inflation.
This decision follows the recent abandonment of plans to require manufacturers to label their products with an alternative to the EU’s CE (Conformité Européene) safety mark. Industry representatives have welcomed the delay, expressing relief that UK food retailers, hospitality businesses, and consumers will be spared major disruptions. Many EU food-producing businesses supplying into the UK are reportedly unprepared for the new requirements, and there were concerns that this could have led to shortages on shelves.
The Impact of Brexit on Fresh Food Imports
Prior to Brexit, exporters were able to send chilled and fresh food to the EU without any paperwork due to the UK’s membership in the single market. However, since the UK’s departure from the EU, fresh and chilled foods, including sausages, cheese, animal products, and plant products, such as timber and leather, are subject to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks. These products can only be exported with a health or veterinary certificate.
In contrast, exporters from the EU have not faced the same paperwork requirements when sending goods to the UK. This disparity arose because the British government failed to establish new SPS systems or secure land for SPS parks to conduct random physical checks on EU exports.
The Brexit cliff-edge in 2021 left British exporters of fish and other fresh goods in chaos, as there was a lack of customs agents and veterinary staff to certify compliance with EU standards1. To address these challenges, the UK government initially postponed Brexit checks in 2020, and then again in 2021 and last year, under the direction of then-Brexit opportunities minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg.
In April, the government announced that checks would be phased in from October 31, with further checks implemented in 2023 and 20241. These checks were set to involve the use of “pre-certification” paperwork, which would notify authorities of the arrival of food products requiring public health compliance.
The Latest Delay and Future Plans
The latest reports indicate that the checks scheduled for October will now be postponed until the end of January, coinciding with the operationalization of physical SPS checks1. The government is expected to release further details regarding the rules that will apply to food imports in the near future, but the introduction of these rules will be delayed1.
The primary reason behind this delay is the government’s desire to address inflation and minimize additional costs at the border. The sensitivity of the food market to price increases in the current economic climate has prompted a cautious approach to avoid disruptions in the supply chain