Full border checks on EU imports are being delayed for the fifth time

The government has finally announced it is delaying its post-Brexit border strategy for a fifth time, amid fears it would push food prices up.

Instead of rolling out the first tranche of border controls, including health certification on products like meat and dairy, in October 2023, ministers are pushing back the timeline by three months.

This allows businesses more time to prepare while avoiding major trade disruption during the busy Christmas period.

Defra confirmed the new Border Target Operating Model timeline is as follows:

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. At this point imports of sanitary and phytosanitary goods from the rest of the world will begin to benefit from the new risk-based model.

31 October 2024 Safety and security declarations for EU imports will come into force from 31 October 2024. Alongside this, we will introduce a reduced dataset for imports.

Brexit border checks delay – what does it mean for the supply chain?

Most businesses trading with the EU have welcomed the news, but highlighted that confidence in the government’s ability to implement full controls on European imports was tumbling. Others, including the National Farmers Union, have once again warned that the move continues to provide a free pass to European producers exporting to the UK while British farmers have had to face full checks since 2021.

  • Shane Brennan, CEO of the Cold Chain Federation

“This delay is the right decision. These Brexit checks will fuel food price inflation whenever they are brought in and so the longer they are held off the better.

“It is however yet another blow to the credibility of the government that has set immovable deadlines time and again, only to move them every time.

“This confusion at the top will not help us with the already massive task of making EU-based businesses aware that Brexit is in fact still not done, and they have to invest in the processes necessary to sell to UK customers from early next year.”

  • Andrew Opie, director for food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium

“Retailers have been working with their European suppliers for many months to help prepare them for the incoming border checks in October.

“The staggered introduction of checks proposed was workable, provided UK ports were ready, and exporting suppliers received the support needed to complete the required checks.

“Our members welcome the delay given the added costs to the supply chain and the level of friction anticipated. However, we need to ensure EU exporters, who have already seen multiple postponements of checks, will thoroughly prepare for January and April checks in the belief that controls will be implemented.

“We also hope that when these checks are introduced, the government will move away from the current proposals to ones that are simplified and recognise existing controls in the supply chain to reduce cost and bureaucracy.”

  • Nigel Jenney, CEO of the Fresh Produce Consortium

“FPC welcomes the publication of the final Border Target Operating Model. It’s clear government has acted upon our concerns and will now implement a unique border approach for the benefit of consumers and industry.

“This focused risk-based approach will reinforce UK biosecurity and promote self-regulation to minimise supply chain disruption. This fundamental change of the UK government’s approach has been years in the making, and the FPC team has been at the forefront of developing solutions which promote biosecurity and minimise the impact on responsible companies. 

“Let’s be clear, challenges remain. However, this is a bold step forward to achieve our ambition to become a world-leading destination of choice promoting imports and exports of fantastic fresh produce, and flowers and plants. 

“Ultimately, where relevant and particularly for the cut flower and plant sector, we need effective inspection solutions for SMEs, groupage consignments and the immediate approval of responsible companies to complete their own official inspections. 

“In the meantime, we look forward to receiving confirmation that the proposed Common User Charge strategy will be abandoned by government.”

Labour demands trade clarity over ‘chaotic’ handling of Brexit border checks delay

  • Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union

“For the past three years, our farmers have faced the full reach of EU controls on our exports while the EU has enjoyed continued easy access to the UK marketplace. This is not just an issue for competitiveness, with British farmers faced with additional costs and paperwork, but also for our nation’s biosecurity.

“It’s hugely frustrating for many producers that the government has yet again delayed the implementation of vital checks on goods entering from the EU for the fifth time. Proportionate and effective controls are necessary if we are to prevent outbreaks of pests and diseases that threaten human, animal and plant health, the safety, quality and biosecurity of our food products and the confidence of our trading partners.

“The NFU will be reviewing the detail of this announcement, as it is vital that the government uses the delay wisely to raise awareness among EU exporters and to address the concerns expressed by many in the supply chain.

“This includes horticulture growers who continue to see the shift of controls away from their business premises to border control posts as a major point of jeopardy, with unknown costs and heightened biosecurity risks. This time should also be used to minimise unnecessary delays at the border once the new system is finally up and running.”

  • Nichola Mallon, head of trade and devolved policy at Logistics UK

“Will three months be sufficient time for government to provide the necessary technical detail and guidance that businesses will need to change processes and adapt to the changes outlined by the new trading arrangements?

“Logistics UK is studying this final model carefully to see if it addresses the concerns expressed by our members and contains the level of operational detail and assurances they, and their EU suppliers, need to make the changes required in that time frame. With so much to adapt to, and such a short time frame available, it is imperative that logistics businesses are given all the detail they need in the initial plan.

“Government needs to provide certainty for business on all the details of the new Border Target Operating Model, and a workable timeline which will allow sufficient planning and implementation time for those responsible for the UK’s supply chain.

“After so much time, and so many delays, logistics businesses are losing confidence in the government’s ability to provide workable solutions to enable the new trading arrangements to be implemented. Our members need all the detail for how border arrangements are to work, and time to implement the changes – if not, the lack of certainty puts the UK’s supply chain at risk.”

  • Road Haulage Association

“We welcome the government’s ambition to create the most technologically advanced border in the world, along with any measures that make it quicker and easier for UK hauliers to pass through the border whilst maintaining border security.

“Given the height of these ambitions, and the increased security steps necessary outside of the EU, we also welcome the longer time frames for introduction announced today.

“This will help ensure everyone involved in moving goods between countries – border posts, government agencies, importers and exporters – has adequate time to adjust to the new systems. 

“It is vital government now works with ports of entry both at home and overseas to put the infrastructure in place to manage the new border system.”

Is Britain’s new Brexit border ready to roll?

  • Marco Forgione, director general of the Institute of Export & International Trade

“The Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) welcomes the innovative approach set out in the Border Target Operating Model (TOM). The shift to risk-based, digital insights and targeting will help with the maintenance of strong security and biosecurity controls.

“The arrival of TOM brings in a new digital, process-based approach to trade, which will ultimately lead to low-friction borders, with the red tape and bureaucracy of physical paperwork removed.

“During the consultation and the development of TOM we have been speaking with our members, to ensure their views and needs have been represented throughout this process. We know our larger retail members have plans in place to ensure a smooth transition to the new systems. This means that there will be no change in fresh food imports arriving on our supermarket shelves and the flow of goods will continue into the UK.

“TOM helps to redress some of the commercial disadvantages that UK businesses have been facing. What’s really important is that UK businesses and those trading into UK markets prepare for these changes.”

  • Louise Hosking, executive director of environmental health at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health

“We welcome the publication of the final Border Target Operating Model which is long overdue. While the model promises an efficient and effective system, CIEH and our members have been consistent in demanding that it remains robust in safeguarding public health, food safety, and biosecurity.

“We have also called on the government to unlock the potential for environmental health practitioners to support products of animal origin checks at the borders as many of our members are competent enough to do so almost immediately.

“Furthermore, while we wholeheartedly support innovations that streamline trade and enhance security, it’s essential that such schemes are not introduced at the expense of rigorous safety and public health controls.”

Brexit border checks: government confirms further delays