Report: UK Government considers another delay to Brexit checks on EU goods

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A report in the Financial Times published late last night states that senior figures in Number 10 are “sympathetic” towards another delay to Brexit customs and veterinary checks on EU goods entering Great Britain. Another delay would avoid additional freight friction at the border, but also continue the situation whereby British exporters to the EU face much more stringent checks compared to EU exporters to Britain.

Report: UK Government considers another delay to Brexit checks on EU goods
Photo by Darko M. on Unsplash

According to the FT’s Jim Pickard, George Parker and Peter Foster, rising costs exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, combined with existing supply chain challenges, are believed to be the reasons why the UK Government would consider another delay.

The FT writes that the Prime Minister has not yet “made a firm decision” on another postponement of checks. However, Lord David Frost, who still appears to be very influential in the Conservative Party despite resigning as Brexit Minister, is strongly in favour of reducing checks on imported goods. Indeed, as recently as last month, Frost took to Twitter to call for all SPS checks to be scrapped. In his view, a “light touch border to the whole world” is a “Brexit opportunity”.

Reacting to last night’s FT report, Lord Frost reaffirmed this position on Twitter:

“I predicted it [a delay to customs and veterinary checks] would be necessary and I am fully supportive of Jacob Rees Mogg in pushing it. But…we should end the fiction of a delay. Stop pretending we must do what the EU does, & get right such limited controls as we do need.”

As Frost referred to in his tweet, Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees Mogg is in favour of a delay. The FT writes that Rees Mogg “argued at a private meeting this week that one advantage of leaving the EU would be to allow Britain to apply only loose checks on imports.”

Mixed feelings on the possibility of a delay

Shane Brennan, Chief Executive of the Cold Chain Federation, was another to react to the FT report. He tweeted that it was right to consider a delay:

“It would be easy to weigh in here with ‘told you so’ stuff – but Ministers are right to consider a delay in imposing vet checks – it’s another cost and hassle food businesses don’t need in a year of rampant inflation and supply chain stress.”

However, not everyone is happy with the prospect of another postponement. Top of the list are British food exporters, who are understandably frustrated by the fact they need to contend with strict EU checks while EU exporters can still export to Britain relatively smoothly.

The disparity in the ease of doing trade hasn’t been lost on James Withers, Chief Executive of Scotland Food and Drink, who tweeted:

“By doing so [delaying the goods checks] we hand a permanent advantage to EU exporters who get a simplified, free-ride selling to the UK. All whilst UK exporters face a wall of self-inflicted, costly bureaucracy to trade with the EU. Who knew the Brexit dividend was, all along, for EU exporters not UK.”

The news comes just days after the British Meat Processors Association said that the industry is experiencing a general 20% loss of export trade with the EU across the board.

How the checks are expected to cause more supply chain friction

The additional border checks, which are supposed to begin in July, are expected to cause a noticeable degree of friction – particularly in the short term. This is something that even some Brexit-supporting haulage business owners accept. Brexit backer and Conservative party donor Andrew Baxter, CEO of logistics company Europa Worldwide, told Trans.INFO back in January that the summer checks would have an impact:

“Certainly when it comes to the phytosanitary goods that have gone from the UK into the EU, the checks that are required going into the EU have been very disruptive for the movement of that type of goods. I suspect that it will also be disruptive to goods coming into the UK. I imagine the UK authorities will have a pretty light touch in terms of it because they’ve no desire to suddenly start creating disruption to the flow of those goods. Even so, I’m sure the checks will have some kind of impact.”

Such is the impact, that Baxter told Trans.INFO there are certain goods his company won’t transport between Britain and the EU:

“At Europa, we no longer carry phytosanitary goods. We are sort of staying out of that because of some of the complexities. I don’t think there’s any doubt those types of goods have been impacted by Brexit.”

Europa Worldwide aren’t the only logistics company who have taken this decision either. In January of this year, Danny Southby, head of European Network at haulage firm Davies Turner, said:

“Davies Turner has decided not to accept any new business of foodstuffs, or products of animal origin, until such time as we are comfortable with the new rules in place, though we continue to serve existing clients.”

Will the checks actually be delayed?

Posting on LinkedIn just before midnight last night, experienced customs expert Robert Hardy wrote:

“Seems HMRC are considering delaying the introduction of ENS and EHC both of which are/were planned for July 2022. Expect them to be delayed. Will confirm if/when we hear for sure.”


Photo by Darko M. on Unsplash

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