Lancashire business leaders welcome further delay on post-Brexit import checks

Plans to postpone new checks on imported goods once more have been welcomed in Lancashire amid rising business costs and global economic uncertainty.

By Tim Gavell
Monday, 2nd May 2022, 3:45 pm

The Government has dropped plans to impose further checks on goods entering the UK from the European Union, already delayed three times.

Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said it would be “wrong to impose new administrative burdens and risk disruption at ports” and added that no further import controls would be imposed on EU goods this year.

The change means restrictions on the imports of chilled meats from the EU and border checks on plant and animal products will not be introduced in July.

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Ports such as the port of Heysham have been gearing up for new post-Brexit import checks on goods. But the Government has postponed plans to impose further checks on goods entering the UK once more

Port operators expressed frustration that time and money spent preparing for the new checks has been “wasted”.

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Mr Rees-Mogg said a “new regime of border import controls” will be established by the end of 2023.

Goods moving from the UK will continue to be subject to checks in the EU despite the Government deciding not to introduce the controls in Britain.

Many port operators say money has been wasted getting ready for the new checks which have now been put off once more

Controls which have already been introduced in the UK will remain in place.

In a statement to MPs, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “When the UK left the European Union, we regained the right to manage our own borders in a way that works for Britain.

“This includes how we manage imports into our country from overseas.

“British businesses and people going about their daily lives are being hit by rising costs caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine and in energy prices.

Martin McTague, the FSB National Chairman

“It would therefore be wrong to impose new administrative burdens and risk disruption at ports and to supply chains at this point. The remaining import controls on EU goods will no longer be introduced this year – saving British businesses up to £1bn in annual costs.”

Responding to news of the further delay of EU food imports, Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Trade to the EU has remained stubbornly flat over the past nine months with recent research indicating that customs checks and its associated paperwork has damaged UK exports to the EU, particularly from smaller businesses.

“Given our current economic situation, the Government has provided a sensible solution to postpone the implementation of import food checks, which were due to be introduced in July, September and November, for over 12 months.

“Businesses are telling us they want to see all food checks and associated paperwork between Europe and Great Britain scrapped - through a negotiated agreement on rules for trade in animal and plant products. That would be the best way to cut costs for our exporters and boost trade.”

Federation of Small Businesses national chairman Martin McTague said: “Imposition of full import controls this summer would have meant yet another burden for small firms which are already wrestling with new trade rules and spiralling operating costs.“This move will give them more time to prepare for future changes and reassess supply chains.“Over the long-term, the Government should do its utmost to minimise trade friction with regions all over the globe - increasing the threshold at which import tariffs kick in, and putting small business chapters at the heart of all new free trade agreements.”

The Government said the new border regime will apply equally to goods from the EU and from the rest of the world.

Mr Rees-Mogg said it will be based on “a proper assessment of risk, with a proportionate, risk-based and technologically advanced approach to controls”.

The controls due in July which have been abandoned include prohibitions and restrictions on the import of chilled meats from the EU, safety and security declarations, and changes to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks on plant and animal products.

Dominic Goudie, head of international trade at the The Food and Drink Federation, welcomed the move in the context of supply chain disruption caused by the pandemic and the Ukraine war.

He said: “While businesses have already spent a good deal of time and money preparing for the new border regime, we welcome the clarity today’s announcement brings.

“The UK Government must now work with industry to design a new, modern and innovative border system which brings genuine benefits to businesses and consumers.”

William Bain, head of Trade Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Under the current economic circumstances it’s sensible to postpone the implementation of import food checks for over 12 months.

“With food prices rising, the extra costs from new checks on meat, fish, dairy and other products would fuel inflation – hitting the pockets of both business and the British public.”

But not everyone is happy with the delay.

Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group, which represents UK port operators, said: “Many ports have been working incredibly hard and have invested over £100m of their own money to build a network of new border checks to meet the requirements the Government has been insisting on for several years.

“This now looks like wasted time, effort and money to develop what we fear will be highly bespoke white elephants.

“Government needs to engage urgently with ports to agree how the substantial investments made in good faith can be recovered.”

And the UK’s largest veterinary body, the British Veterinary Association said the move risked exposing the country’s livestock to devastating diseases.

The BVA said it had repeatedly warned that delaying checks, already pushed back three times, could have serious implications for animal health and British agriculture - opening a threat of the incursion of diseases such as African Swine Fever.

“This move flies in the face not only of common sense, but also of the Government’s commitment to preserving high levels of animal and human health in the UK,” said James Russell, BVA Senior VP.