Post-Brexit border checks on goods entering Britain from the EU will go ahead as planned in January next year, cabinet minister Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe assured businesses on Wednesday.
The rollout of the Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) – the government’s flagship post-Brexit strategy being spearheaded by Neville-Rolfe – was delayed this October over fears the incoming barrage of red tape would fuel food inflation.
In her first speech since the BTOM announcement earlier this year, the cabinet minister told attendees at the Institute for Export & International Trade’s Import Export Show that both European and British businesses had welcomed the postponement as it allowed them more time to prepare for the border checks.
“[EU preparedness] was an area of risk we were worried about when we were setting the timetable,” she said. “I think it’s fair to say it’s one of the reasons why people actually welcomed the move away from October to January  for the start of the scheme – we felt that the EU needed more time.”
The government had “long conversations” with supermarkets and their suppliers to make sure there were no border hold-ups or food shortages when the requirements – which include costly export health certificates and SPS checks on some plant and animal goods – come in at the end of January next year, said Neville-Rolfe, who worked for Tesco from 1997 to 2013.
“On the whole they are supportive of the arrangements and certainly I remember a very well-known retailer asking for us to push the October date back to January, so I think they were rather pleased when that happened,” she added.
The border target operating model will implement controls through three major milestones:
- 31 January 2024: The introduction of health certification on imports of medium risk animal products, plants, plant products and high risk food (and feed) of non-animal origin from the EU
- 30 April 2024: The introduction of documentary and risk-based identity and physical checks on medium risk animal products, plants, plant products and high risk food (and feed) of non-animal origin from the EU
- 31 October 2024: Safety and security declarations for EU imports will come into force from 31 October 2024. Alongside this, government will introduce a reduced dataset for imports and use of the UK single trade window will remove duplication where possible across different pre-arrival datasets.
However, Rishi Sunak’s delay to border checks on EU imports – the government’s fifth in nearly three years – has not been well received by the industry.
British farmers and other producers have argued the move continues to give continental counterparts a commercial advantage seeing as UK exports heading to the EU have faced full checks since the start of 2021.
Neville-Rolfe’s comments came amid industry concerns that the government would continue to postpone border requirements on EU good entering Britain ahead of a potential general election next year.
IOE&IT director general Marco Forgione told The Grocer last week that constant delays were causing an “environment of distrust” amid business.
Following Neville-Rolfe’s statement on Wednesday, he said he was “glad” to hear the Baroness and fellow Minister for Enterprise, Markets and Small Business, Kevin Hollinrake, commit to the January timeline.
“It was particularly good to hear ministers committing to the timetable for the introduction of the Border Target Operating Model.
“The message we’ve given to the Government has been very clear: there can be no further delays. So I was reassured to hear that the Minister is absolutely committed to ensuring this.”
Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow business and trade secretary Jonathan Reynolds pledged to improve trade relationships with the EU – including negotiating a veterinarian agreement that would vastly reduce the need for some of the TOM’s costly border checks – as he unveiled the party’s new trade strategy at an event in London on the same day.
He criticised the government’s pursuit of several major trade deals at once since Brexit, and said Labour would pursue fewer but better trade deals if it came to power.