UK government on Tuesday (29) has confirmed the delay of post-Brexit checks on food, plant and animal produce arriving in Britain, saying it was giving businesses more time to prepare after engagement with industry.
The additional red tape had been due to be phased in from October, but will now be pushed back until 2024 amid fears that the cost burden will add to inflation. The latest delay implies that the health certificates required for imports will begin from Jan 31 while there will be a further three months before sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks on medium-risk food, animal and plant products come into force on 30 April.
The move has also been interpreted as a response to concerns that the start of checks would further fuel food price inflation during the cost of living crisis, although the government has estimated that the impact of the new border strategy on headline inflation would amount to “less than 0.2 per cent across three years”.
Business groups – critical of preparedness for the latest wave of post-Brexit bureaucracy – have largely welcomed the decision to delay, saying it would help avoid “major disruption” at the border and in supermarkets.
William Bain, head of trade at the British Chambers of Commerce, said, “Businesses will be pleased with this clarity as they prepare for the challenging shift to a digital trade system.”
Bain urged the government to help firms and port officials get ready for January. Businesses “need to be confident that the physical and digital infrastructure around the GB border is going to be in place on time,” he said.
Nigel Jenney, chief executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium, said fruit and vegetable importers also welcomed the move adding that the government had “acted upon our concerns”. However, he said “challenges remain” with the implementation.
Andrew Opie of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the umbrella body for supermarkets, said most retailers also “welcome” the delay – but warned that the government had to reassure EU exporters that the checks would be enforced in 2024 after successive delays.
A spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation said the delay was “unfortunate but necessary”, as the body urged the government to “use this time to deliver progress where it can help to simplify and cut the cost of international trade”.
Nick Allen, chief executive at the British Meat Processors Association, said it was still not clear exactly which goods would go into different risk categories for levels of inspection, or how efficient new digital systems for paperwork would be.