Government IT system ‘not ready’ for post-Brexit checks

(Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images)

Food supplies may face further disruption from Jan 1 due to the “medieval” government IT system that is still not yet ready to process post-Brexit paperwork, claimed a recent media report which also cited business groups’ warning predicting lesser choice and higher prices for British shoppers, as well as more gaps on retailers’ shelves.

From Jan 1, importers must comply with a host of new requirements including full customs declarations, rules of origin forms and notifications for food imports. Shipments of plant and animal products will require online forms detailing every type of item as well as its source and destination.

According to a recent report by The Independent, some companies that are importing food from the EU are finding it cumbersome to submit vital details of their cargo because government software is “plagued by technical bugs”.

Problems are primarily affecting shipments of fruit, vegetables and plants, with importers also experiencing difficulty logging details of animal products, claimed the report.

Although the government has acknowledged the issue, it is yet to establish a workaround, implying ambiguity for importers who are not sure when they will be able to submit the required forms for food imports.

“We are investigating these cases and working with impacted users to provide a short-term work around, and apologise for any inconvenience this may cause,” the report quoted a spokesperson for the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra).

UK is particularly dependent on EU imports of fresh fruit and vegetables, with around 90 per cent of lettuces and 85 per cent of tomatoes shipped in from across the Channel.

Apart from the reported tech bug, food importers are also frustrated that, from Jan 1, they will be forced to “manually input data for each shipment” because software to automatically upload information won’t be ready for months.

“It is like we have gone back to medieval times and we are copying books by hand instead of using a printing press,” said Michael Szydlo, founder of Quick Declare, a company that helps dozens of businesses import and export goods.

Software to allow automatic uploads was supposed to be ready by Jan 1, but reportedly has been delayed, with no firm date set for its release.