FRESH PRODUCE JOURNAL Defra delays post-Brexit border checks

UK government postpones start of physical checks on EU food imports for sixth time to avoid “serious disruption” at the border, according to report

Westminster has reportedly told UK port authorities it will not “turn on” new health and safety border checks for EU food imports at the end of this month.

In a presentation seen by the Financial Times, Defra highlighted the risk of “significant disruption” if the new post-Brexit measures were implemented as planned on 30 April.

In a move designed to avoid port delays, the government said it would ensure the rate of checks was initially “set to zero for all commodity groups”.

Physical border checks have already been delayed five times since 2021 over fears that they could cause disruption and drive up food prices.

In the leaked document, Defra admitted to port health authorities that “challenges” still remained within its systems for registering imports of food and animal products. These challenges could trigger unmanageable levels of inspections, overwhelming ports, it reportedly said.

The FT said It was not clear for how long border checks would be delayed, but the presentation indicated that the systems would be “progressively turned on” for different product groups.

UK businesses and organisations have repeatedly called for the government’s new border checks to be delayed or amended. The Cold Chain Federation warned earlier this month that the full implementation of the UK’s new Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) on 30 April would increase food prices and reduce consumer choice.

And in a 27 March letter to the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs EFRA Select Committee seen by the FPJ, the Dover Port Health Authority (DPHA) warned that Defra’s post-Brexit border control rules governing UK food imports would erode rather than strengthen the country’s food security and biosecurity.

Meanwhile, the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) recently warned that the common user charge (CUC), to be introduced as part of post-Brexit border controls, threatens to cripple fresh produce businessess.

In a statement today (19 April), the Cold Chain Federation said it welcomed reports that physical checks of EU imports would ”start at zero” when the new Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) goes live on 30 April.

Cold Chain Federation chief executive Phil Pluck said: “We welcome Defra’s recent engagement with the Cold Chain Federation about BTOM’s implementation, and the recognition that a pragmatic approach is required.

”Food logistics businesses are trying to make final preparations for operating under the new system from 30 April, not only the changes that will be required to processes but also preparing for the additional costs, planning for mitigating anticipated disruption, and responding to the decisions of some EU-based customers to change or stop their exports to the UK.”

Pluck continued: “The ongoing confusion about how and when new checks will be introduced makes these preparations incredibly challenging, but it is not too late for government to work with industry to improve the transition.

“A phased approach is the right one, but businesses urgently need clear information about what exactly these phases will include, and a definitive timeline. Giving businesses the certainty they need will help minimise the inevitable cost impacts of the new system for businesses and for consumers.”