Britain postpones checks on EU goods for six months

Gove blames Covid for delay, which will allow businesses more time to prepare

The EU introduced full checks on British imports on January 1st. Photograph: Getty Images

Britain has postponed the introduction of checks on goods from the European Union for a further six months to give businesses more time to prepare and to ensure that border installations are in place at ports.

Health certificates for animal products such as meat and cheese will be introduced in October rather than next month as planned, with checks on other goods phased in over the subsequent six months.

The EU introduced full checks on British imports on January 1st, and many British exporters have struggled under the new bureaucratic burden required by Britain’s exit from the single market and customs union.

Cabinet office minister Michael Gove blamed coronavirus for the delay, asserting that all the missing infrastructure would have been in place in time for the original timetable.

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“Although we recognise that many in the border industry and many businesses have been investing time and energy to be ready on time, and indeed we in government were confident of being ready on time, we have listened to businesses who have made a strong case that they need more time to prepare.

“In reviewing the timeframes we have given strong weight to the disruption which has been caused, and is still being caused, by Covid, and the need to ensure that the economy can recover fully,” he said.

Under the new timetable British importers of animal products will have to submit pre-notifications from October 1st instead of April 1st. Safety and security declarations due to be introduced in July will instead be required from next January, as will customs declarations for all goods. Checks on live animals and low-risk plant products will not be introduced until March 2022.

Incompetence

Labour's shadow cabinet office minister Jack Dromey said the government's "chopping and changing" of rules smacked of incompetence.

“They have had years to prepare for this but can’t stop missing their own deadlines. It is no wonder that the trade secretary herself has warned of chaos. The government need to pull their sleeves up, listen to businesses who have been desperately coming forward with practical solutions, and get this sorted.”

The delay underscores the vulnerability of British importers as well as exporters to the friction introduced to trade with the EU by the trade and co-operation agreement reached last Christmas.

However, David Frost, who negotiated the trade deal that necessitated the checks and is now the minister in charge of relations with the EU, hailed the delay as an expression of British sovereignty.

“As a sovereign trading nation outside the EU we have freedom to take decisions in our national interest – and in the interest of our businesses,” he said.

“We will now introduce border controls broadly six months later than planned to give traders time to focus on getting back on their feet as the economy opens up after a difficult year.

“We are confident that this new timetable will allow import businesses to re-establish their trading arrangements after a difficult period due to coronavirus in the most straightforward and lightest touch way possible.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times