Brexit chaos: No deal would halt food exports
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Brexit could spark disarray for the UK's multi-billion-pound food export industry, according to a devastating new report.
The National Audit Office has warned valuable products and even livestock could blocked or held up at UK ports and airports because of a shortage of vets to sign off new export health certificates (EHC) covering EU countries.
On top of the lack of vets the UK is also behind on the required paper work if there is a no-deal Brexit.
The UK needs to introduce 1,400 new versions of documents to cover trade with 154 countries outside the bloc if there was no-deal. But Defra say they will only have time to complete 15 by March.
The NAO warned that the department has 'accepted the risk that firms that currently export to those countries where agreement is not reached may not be able to do so for a period after EU exit'.
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Work to 'engage publicly with the veterinary market' was scheduled to start in April by Defra but the government did not authorise it until September, the spending watchdog said.
It added: 'Without enough vets, consignments of food could be delayed at the border or prevented from leaving the UK.
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'Defra intended to start engaging with the veterinary industry in April 2018, but has not been permitted to do so and now plans to launch an emergency recruitment campaign in October to at least meet minimum levels of vets required.
'It plans to meet any remaining gaps through the use of non-veterinarians to check records and processes that do not require veterinary judgment.'
The report said animal and animal product exports were worth £7.6 billion to the UK economy in 2016.
The certificates are official documents that prove that exports comply with regulations and animal health standards so food and other animal products can be sent abroad.
A Defra spokesman said the report also said the department had 'already achieved a great deal in its preparations' for Brexit, including new IT systems and 'new services to replace those currently provided by the EU'.
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