For the fifth time, checks on fresh food coming into the UK from the EU are being postponed – leaving British producers complaining that they are at a disadvantage.
The move is the second Brexit backdown in a week after the government’s earlier decision to abandon plans for a British safety mark on products.
The latest postponement of checks has been driven by fears that added controls on imported items from Europe cloud potentially raise food inflation levels at a time when the government is battling to get the headline inflation figure down. The Bank of England has raised UK interest rates to 5.25% as part of that effort.
One government insider told the Financial Times: “The driving force behind this is the need to bear down on inflation, that’s why there will be a delay.”
The Border Trade Operating Model (BTOM), among other measures, was set to introduce requirements for consignments carrying goods considered medium or high risks – such as some meat, dairy and fish products – to have a vet-signed export health certificate. Prior to this update, it was due to be implemented on October 31 with a full import regime in place by October 2024. A new timeframe has yet to be seen, but it is anticipated that the new date will be early next year.
The move has been greeted with enthusiasm by representatives of the UK’s food supply network, who feared that if introduced, the checks might also have led to shortages of some foods. Shane Brennan, the chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation said: “The government has made the right decision to postpone. UK food retailers, hospitality businesses and consumers were in line for major disruption because many EU food-producing businesses supplying into the UK are not ready for the new requirements.”
But UK food producers will be less happy. British exports into the EU have faced controls since January 2021 and farmers and other producers have long argued that their continental rivals are getting a free pass while they have to endure checks on all fresh food exports to the bloc.
The new climbdown on an aspect of Brexit follows on from Tuesday’s announcement that British businesses would be allowed to continue to use the European Union’s safety mark indefinitely, bowing to calls from industry that the planned introduction of the “UKCA” mark would add further costs.