Britain delays implementation of post-Brexit trade controls

Move gives Irish exporters to Britain more time to prepare to comply with new regulations

Industry sources in the logistics and customs sector have also said the government’s infrastructure was not ready to impose full checks. Photograph: iStock

Industry sources in the logistics and customs sector have also said the government’s infrastructure was not ready to impose full checks. Photograph: iStock

 

Britain has postponed a range of post-Brexit checks on imports from the European Union for a second time, saying businesses needed more time to recover from the coronavirus pandemic before facing new border controls.

Export health certificates, which were due to be introduced on October 1st, will not now come in until July 1st next year. A requirement for businesses to pre-notify the British authorities about some goods entering Britain from the EU has been postponed from October 1st to January 1st next year.

Safety and security declarations and physical checks at border control posts, which were due to begin on January 1st, have also been pushed back to July 1st 2022.

“We want businesses to focus on their recovery from the pandemic rather than have to deal with new requirements at the border, which is why we’ve set out a pragmatic new timetable for introducing full border controls,” Brexit minister David Frost said.

“Businesses will now have more time to prepare for these controls which will be phased in throughout 2022. The government remains on track to deliver the new systems, infrastructure and resourcing required.”

Streamline

The British Irish Chamber of Commerce welcomed the announcement and urged the British government to use the extra time to streamline customs procedures and to introduce electronic export health certificates.

“This pragmatic approach is necessary so that the UK government can make the necessary preparations for full customs controls to ensure an orderly transition that does not unduly disrupt trade,” the group’s director of policy Paul Lynam said.

But Britain’s food and drink sector complained that companies had already spent money preparing for the introduction of new controls next month and that the delay rewarded those firms that had ignored official advice to prepare. Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said officials told his organisation as late as Monday that the new checks were going ahead as planned.

Criticism

“The repeated failure to implement full UK border controls on EU imports since January 1st, 2021 undermines trust and confidence among businesses. Worse, it actually helps the UK’s competitors.

“The asymmetric nature of border controls facing exports and imports distorts the market and places many UK producers at a competitive disadvantage with EU producers,” he said.

The British government’s move comes as staff shortages, especially in the haulage industry, have disrupted supply chains and led to empty shelves in some supermarkets. British exports to the EU are subject to full checks imposed on goods entering the Union from a so-called “third country”.

Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister Jenny Chapman said the delay in introducing the checks showed that the Conservative government did not have a sustainable answer to reducing delays at the borders.

Irish reaction

The UK’s deferral of post-Brexit import controls will buy Irish businesses more time to prepare for the changes, Cormac Healy, chief executive of Meat Industry Ireland, said.

“No matter what, with all the best intentions and work in preparation when such a system goes live there are always issues and teething problems,” he said.

“With all the challenges in the supply chain, this being added in October would have brought further pressures on everybody so a bit more time is welcome.”

Co Cork-based fish exporters Hederman Smoked Salmon said the deferral of controls was “slightly better news” just hours after saying on Twitter that it had possibly taken final orders for long-term customers in the UK because of the “impossibly costly” administration required for export health certificates from October 1st.

Caroline Workman, general manager at the company, said that its UK business “would have been completely gone” with the health certification requirement because the company would lose any flexibility to ship out orders quickly as each export requires a form with 30 unique fields to be completed and sign-off from a health inspector.

The company had already lost high-end UK clients such as retailers Fortnum and Mason and Selfridge’s and Rick Stein’s restaurants because of Brexit charges, she said, and customs has doubled the cost of shipping produce to the UK since the start of the year.