Suspension of UK food safety controls considered if no Brexit deal agreed

UK academics say they have been informed of government plan to protect UK food imports

Plans are being prepared to “suspend food controls” if there are any delays to imports of perishable foods at Britain’s borders. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Plans are being prepared to “suspend food controls” if there are any delays to imports of perishable foods at Britain’s borders. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

 

UK food safety controls could be suspended to prevent perishable goods getting delayed at UK borders if no Brexit deal is secured, a report claims.

Academics say they have been informed by a UK government adviser of the plans being developed should delays emerge. EU countries might then respond by blocking exports from the UK due to it adopting a “cavalier” approach to safety standards, the report adds.

The warnings are contained in the Food Research Collaboration briefing, Feeding Britain: Food Security After Brexit. In the section entitled “Preparing for a no deal food Brexit”, the report says it believes the UK will need to maintain “open and unhindered borders” with the EU for food.

It adds: “The prime minister told the cabinet in July to prepare for no deal. “She is right but it is already happening in Defra [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] in some worrying directions. “In recent months, we have learned from a senior government adviser that plans are being prepared to ‘suspend food controls’ if there are any delays to imports of perishable foods at our borders.

Folly

“We learned too that other policy commentators had been told the same by senior Defra personnel. One government adviser even informed us that the plans were being devised ‘to avoid parliamentary scrutiny’. Senior industry people have told us in no uncertain terms that this would be folly and must be avoided, not least because it would threaten exports from the UK to the EU.

“If the UK were to suspend food safety controls, others might block exports from a country taking such a cavalier approach to public health. It would go completely against all the protestations of commitment to high consumer and health standards. Yet this appears to be what Defra envisages.”

‘Several hints’

The report adds there have already been “several hints” from ministers to endorse such a proposal. It went on: “If border checks rose to four minutes, there would be 20-mile or so (possibly even 29-mile) lorry tailbacks within a day, hence the fall-back, we presume, of suspending food controls to allow all traffic to be waved through.

“This is not ‘taking back control’, it is abandoning it.” City University professor Tim Lang, a co-author of the report, said: “One could argue that this is sensible emergency planning but it is also risky. “Consumers would rightly wonder who was guaranteeing the safety and quality of the imported food they were buying. “Criminals would be alerted to opportunities for food fraud. “And the move would send negative signals to the EU, at a delicate time in Brexit negotiations. – PA